The longer Conrad Shindler stood over his 18-inch putt, the longer it looked. The hometown favorite had just missed a 3½-footer on the first playoff hole. A torrential rain had just begun, and those around the 18th green who weren’t stunned immobile by Chesson Hadley’s miss were running for cover from the weather.
In the chaos, Conrad Shindler’s very easy putt to win the Rex Hospital Open on Sunday suddenly because very difficult. And Raleigh’s Hadley had just demonstrated just how easy it was to miss.
“I picked a really bad time to hit a really bad putt,” Hadley said later.
Shindler ran it in for a very abrupt and unexpected victory, an anticlimactic substitute for the feel-good story so many wanted – Hadley winning his hometown tournament for the second time on his way back to the PGA Tour – while the sound of rain pattering against the hospitality tents substituted for applause.
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Not that it mattered to Shindler, who had been grinding it out on mini-tours and overseas since graduating from Texas A&M in 2011. The 28-year-old Web.com Tour rookie won twice as much money on Sunday – $117,000 – than he ever had in an entire summer.
“I don’t ever want to say that you don’t want to win that way – you don’t – but sometimes those are the cards that you’re dealt,” Shindler said. “I’m not going to lie, my 18-incher, my hands were trembling. You always think about when you’re playing with your buddies, 18 inches, it’s no big deal, but when it’s to pick up your first win, it’s not easy.”
The big difference between winning out here and winning on the PGA Tour isn’t only, as Carlos Ortiz quipped Thursday, “one zero on the right.” It’s that winning on the Web.com Tour is often license to keep playing, to keep going, to keep fighting. Kyle Thompson was days away from quitting golf entirely when he won this tournament for the third time two years ago. Shindler spent five years just trying to get on this tour. Now he knows he’s back next summer, even if he doesn’t secure his PGA Tour card.
Hadley has more money in the bank (and a PGA Tour victory to his credit) but after two years of “terrible” golf, he’ll take the second-place check and the feeling of contending for the first time since April 2015. He’s only one more weekend like this from getting his card back, although a win Sunday would have done it.
“There’s hardly ever a home game in golf,” Shindler said, in the context of the travel and the grind, but this was one for Hadley. He had the biggest gallery and faced the most pressure of anyone at TPC at Wakefield Plantation this week, and the sense of anticipation that surrounded the playoff was focused entirely on him. Shindler was almost an afterthought, right up until the point where he won.
The margin of victory was a mere 42 inches: “Nightmarish,” Hadley said. In pants that could have been equitably described as nuclear aqua or electric turquoise – Hadley preferred “Great Exuma blue” – he was storming toward the finish, which was finishing toward a storm. Hadley moved into a tie with Shindler at 15-under par with an eagle on the 15th, then finished his 72nd hole just before Shindler as both finished under gathering dark clouds.
By the time Hadley was missing his second putt in the playoff, pulling it left of the hole, big drops were starting to fall. As Shindler successfully tapped in for the win, it was pouring. He shook Hadley’s hand almost in apology, then hugged his caddie while fans sprinted for shelter.
By the time the cloudburst passed and Shindler was presented with the trophy, Hadley had long ago liberated beers for himself and his friends from the clubhouse and was off to celebrate his return to contention and put out the 73rd-hole flames simultaneously.
Both Hadley and Shindler are headed to Chicago on Monday for another tournament – Hadley hoping to get in position to make a putt like the one he missed, Shindler and his fiancee enjoying an alternate celebration from the one that was ready to erupt on 18, one that might have been smaller in attendance but was no less anticipated by the participants.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock