Golf can be as cruel as it is rewarding.
In 2013, Raleigh’s Chesson Hadley rolled in a short birdie putt at the 18th hole on Sunday to clinch the Rex Hospital Open at TPC Wakefield Plantation. The ovation that day was loud, special.
Four years later, Hadley missed a 3 1/2-footer for par at the 18th, on the first hole of a playoff against Conrad Shindler, to lose the Web.com Tour tournament. It was a sudden, shocking ending Sunday, Hadley’s miss causing a loud groan from the crowd by the green.
Shindler, a former Texas A&M golfer from Dallas, won with a two-putt par as rain began to fall. It was Shindler’s first Web.com Tour win, and he said his hands were trembling on the 18-inch putt he had to win.
“It’s the kind of thing you dream about all the time,” Shindler said. “It was a magical week.”
One with a disappointing finish for Hadley.
“It’s kind of nightmarish, to be honest with you,” he said. “I chose a very poor time to hit a very poor putt. Didn’t hit the hole.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, it’s embarrassing, it is what it is. But I’ll be all right. I was in contention. I gave myself an opportunity, which was a positive. I shot 5 under on a really hard golf course today. I’ve got to find the positives.”
Hadley forced a smile, saying, “I’m not freaking out. I’m going to go have some fun tonight.”
Hadley used the 2013 Rex title to help propel himself onto the PGA Tour. In 2014, he won the Puerto Rico Open and was named the tour’s rookie of the year and was on an ascent in his professional career.
But the past two years have been a struggle for the former Georgia Tech All-America. He lost his playing rights the PGA Tour and is back on the Web.com Tour, looking to play his way back.
“This is my first top-10 finish in it’s got to be a year and a half or two years,” Hadley said. “For some reason, I felt more pressure this week, the second time around. I felt I really had to perform for the city of Raleigh, and I did.”
The second-place check of $70,200 pushed Hadley up the Web.com Tour money list – he was 18th after the Rex. The top 25 money winners for the year earn PGA Tour playing rights for 2017-18, and that’s Hadley’s goal.
Hadley, playing a group ahead of Shindler and Lee in Sunday’s final round, had a 25-footer birdie putt at the 18th to end regulation play but missed to close at 269 after 66.
Shindler, who earned $117,000, was just off the front fringe after his approach at the 18th, 25 feet from the hole, and two-putted for a par to get in at 15-under after a 67. Lee then missed a 12-footer for birdie that would have put him in the playoff.
Hadley, 29, took the first-round lead with a 64 but followed with a 1-over 72 he called “poopy.” He had a chance at a low score Saturday before some back nine problems left him with a 67, two shots behind Lee, the 54-hole leader.
Hadley trailed much of the final round and lost focus and missed a one-foot tap-in at the 10th hole. But he picked up birdies at the 12th and 14th holes and an eagle at the par-5 15th to tie for the lead.
Andrew Putnam, the tour’s top money winner this year, tied for third at 14-under 270 with Lee and Andrew Landry.
Carter Jenkins of Raleigh, who played the Rex on a sponsor’s exemption, ended the week with an even-par 71 and 3-under 281 total.
Jenkins, 21, twice competed in the Rex as a junior player but was making his first Rex appearance as a pro. He played the BMW Charity Pro-Am, a Web.com Tour event, two weeks ago but the Rex was his first four-round event on tour.
“I learned a lot about myself,” the former UNC golfer said. “It was nice to see how my game stacked up with these guys. It’s there. Just a little more seasoning is required.
“I learned that physically everything is there. It’s a matter of feeling like you belong out here and believing in yourself and getting the job done when it counts.”
Jenkins has conditional status on the Web.com Tour this year. A top-25 finish in the Rex would have qualified him for the next Web.com Tour event, but he’ll return to the Mackenzie Tour in Canada.
“It will nice to be able to go out and play somewhere … where I don’t feel like I have to be perfect every round,” he said.