Golf's quintessential Cinderella story
In a few weeks some of us will be struggling to remember who even won at Pebble Beach. There will be a memory of Dustin Johnson supposedly blowing it, maybe of Jon Rahm crashing out on the back nine on Sunday for a 76, Rory McIlroy missing the cut, or even some oversized American footballer knocking it close at the iconic 7th.
But the real star of the show, Ted Potter Jr, will be somewhere in the recesses of our brains.
Personally speaking there are few tournaments less engaging than ‘The AT&T’, with all the bombast and bluster of a TV funnyman talking about his new show, or some faceless CEO piping one at the 17th, or the turgid repetition of Bill Murray’s trousers.
Oh look, we’re not biased here, there’s a lady playing golf too.
But the final round was right from the top table, a journeyman grinder going head-to-head with the World No. 1, a man who would spend the Sunday afternoon in California gunning it 50 yards past his playing partner off the tee.
Both have had famous falls: Johnson down some stairs on the eve of a Masters he was favourite to win; Potter slipping off a kerb in some flip-flops in 2014 which kept him out of the game for nearly two years. Otherwise they are worlds apart.
This was the first time Potter had been in the final group on a Sunday. There had been the win at the Greenbrier in 2012, when Tiger and Phil were both in the field, and there have been five major starts, but the majority of Potter’s back story is one of, like most players, struggles with the game.
On the 2004 Web.com Tour he missed the cut in all 24 starts, three years later he missed 17 of 20, and then in 2010 he missed cuts in eight of 11 starts. Last year the second-string tour was kinder to him, elevating him back on to the PGA Tour. This was his ninth start in the 2017-18 season, he had failed to make the weekend five times and had a best finish of T13 at the RSM Classic.
And then this.
They could make a film of Ted Potter Jr one day. The broken ankle required two surgeries, one to insert 12 screws and two plates, the other to remove them.
On day three he threatened a 59 at Monterey Peninsula before bogeying the last two holes for a 62. Given his standing in the game there was no coverage of any of the 11 birdies.
His opening hole at Pebble Beach was another dropped shot. He then dug deep, shaped his ball this way and that, got up and down six-out-of-six times and rolled in the key putts. The stand-out moment involved a chip-in at the short 7th.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 12, 2018
His long-time caddie estimated that he might have won around 60 events on the mini tours but only maybe 15 of those were played over four rounds. Otherwise they were a collection of one or two-day events where you are putting up your own money and playing to win enough to fill up your car to get to the next event.
“When I first turned pro I was working at the cart barn playing Moonlight events down in Orlando so on my days off I play some mini-tour events to try to win a couple hundred bucks or whatever,” Potter said after his win.
“And then from there you try to play in bigger events to win more money to get into the four-day events or two to four-day events.
“There’s always a time where you definitely are living pay cheque to pay cheque for basically a mini-tour player. So that’s a lot of pressure on you when you’re trying to save enough money to go to Q-School at the end of the year too on top of it.”
Most of the wins didn’t even involve a trophy but a win’s a win, as they will tell you, and they served him well. Potter barely flickered as he got it round in a closing 69, one better than World No. 8 Day, two better than top-ranked Johnson and seven better than No. 2 Rahm.
At the end of it all he was the one stood next to Clint Eastwood with a winner’s cheque for $1,332,000.
He’s now going back to The Masters and his world ranking now reads 73 from 246. You only have to go back as far as June 2016 to find him outside the top 1000.
What’s not to love about the man? He tells it like it is, keeps things simple, admits that he doesn’t practise enough, the swing is far from textbook, he doesn’t appear to spend too much time in the gym – and his Twitter account only sprung into life last week, by his manager no doubt, when he was seven under after holes on Saturday.
His followers are now up to 97.
Scotland’s Russell Knox, who played with Potter on the Hooters Tour, was once asked who was the best player he ever played against?
The reply was Potter.
“Never heard of him? You will,” Knox said.
We have now.