A promo for the Rex Hospital Open says: “The road to the PGA Tour goes through Raleigh.”
That’s not just marketing hype. Chesson Hadley would say it’s true. The same for Grayson Murray.
Hadley won the Web.com Tour event four years ago and used it as a springboard to the PGA Tour. A year ago, Murray used a top-10 finish in the Rex to get his year moving in the right direction and now plays on the PGA Tour.
Carter Jenkins and Bo Andrews are hoping for the same. The two Raleigh natives will be playing the Rex Hospital Open this week on sponsor’s exemptions, both grateful for the Web.com Tour start and looking to make the most of it at TPC Wakefield Plantation.
“I cherish the opportunity to get my season kickstarted with one good week,” Jenkins said. “Because that’s all it takes, that’s all you need.”
Some would say that’s golfer-speak, or wishful thinking. Jenkins has conditional status on the Web.com Tour and Andrews, who has been playing on the mini-tours, has tried to get in tournaments through Monday qualifying.
But Murray was in the same spot as Jenkins last year. Given a sponsor’s exemption into the Rex, the Raleigh native also had conditional status on the Web.com Tour and was unsure when and if he would be able to play.
“One good week can change your whole path,” Murray said.
Murray tied for 10th at Wakefield. That finish got him into the next tour event, the BMW Charity Pro-Am, where he tied for eighth. His path changed.
Things quickly accelerated. By year’s end, Murray had won a tournament and had eight top-10 finishes in all, earning playing rights on the PGA Tour for 2017-18.
“The Rex was huge for me,” he said.
Jenkins, 21, twice played in the Rex after winning a junior invitational qualifier. In 2013, Murray, a week removed from competing in the U.S. Open, served as the caddie for his friend and former golf teammate at Leesville Road High.
For Andrews, 26, the Rex Hospital Open will be his first appearance at Wakefield and his second Web.com Tour start. The former Georgia Tech golfer used a 64 in a Monday qualifier to get into the Club Colombia Championship in February in Bogota, Colombia, but missed the cut.
“I just want to play my best and see what I can do,” Andrews said of the Rex. “It takes one good week to really make your dreams come true, and the Web.com Tour can do that for you. It’s a chance for me to push my career to the next step.”
Jenkins, who played college golf at UNC-Greensboro and then North Carolina, has the deep, weathered tan of a pro golfer and the past year has been something of a blur.
Jenkins was an All-ACC selection for the Tar Heels in 2016 while also qualifying for the MacKenzie Tour, the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit in Canada. Giving up his final year of college eligibility, he packed up and headed out on the road with his father, Bobby, as his caddie.
Jenkins played 12 MacKenzie Tour events including the Staal Foundation Open in Thunder Bay, Ont. A big hitter off the tee and a solid ball-striker, he tied for second in the Dakota Dunes Open in late-June and then tied for fourth in his next start, the Players Cup.
Jenkins finished one shot behind former Arizona State golfer Max Rottluff in the Dakota Dunes Open in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The payoff: $18,900.
“Learning what it takes to play professional golf and the grind it can be, playing four weeks in a row in different towns, different courses, in different countries, was great,” he said.
Jenkins went into the Web.com Tour qualifying tournament feeling good about his game and it showed. He won the second stage of Q-School in Mobile, Ala., with an 18-under 270 total after a final-round 63.
But the final stage of Q-School was four rounds of frustration. Jenkins tied for 120th at Orange County National in Winter Garden, Fla., leaving him with conditional status on the tour this year.
Then, a break. An unexpected one.
The Wells Fargo Championship had an extra sponsor’s invite after Camilo Villegas played his way into the tournament. Jenkins was chosen for the sponsor’s exemption for the Wells Fargo – his first PGA Tour event.
A late starter in the second round at Eagle Point in Wilmington, Jenkins was unable to finish because of darkness and had to return to the course early Saturday morning to play his final eight holes and try to survive the 36-hole cut.
“I had to sleep on the cut line, and I didn’t sleep,” Jenkins said, smiling. “I struggled those last eight holes.”
Jenkins, with a pair of 75s, did not make the cut. But what a week. When he arrived at Eagle Point, he found his locker in the players’ locker room next to Dustin Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
That can be a bit intimidating. You’re not in Saskatoon anymore.
Jenkins said he shared a special moment with his father on Saturday. At the 18th hole, after Jenkins holed out his last putt, there might have been a tear or two.
“I looked at him and shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you, Dad,’ ” Jenkins said. “That’s all I had to do. We knew that wasn’t the last time.”
There’s always the Rex Hospital Open – for Jenkins and for Andrews. Who knows, it could be the start of something big.
Rex Hospital Open
What: Web.com Tour event
Where: TPC Wakefield Plantation, Raleigh.
Ticket, parking information: wwww.rexhospitalopen.com