Lee McCoy, a 22-year-old amateur who plays for the University of Georgia, shot a two-under 69, in difficult conditions no less, at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, a course that he had played hundreds of times as a local to the area, to post a tournament total four-under. Not only did that vault him to a solo fourth finish at the Valspar Championship — after he made the cut on the number — but he also beat world no. 1 Jordan Spieth, who he was playing alongside with in the final round.
Spieth, however, was impressed with McCoy, who was playing in the event thanks to a sponsor’s invitation. As the crowd surrounding the 18th green gave McCoy a standing ovation after he putted out for his par, Spieth was also clapping for him emphatically. For good reason.
McCoy showed he has some real game, not to mention guts as showed composure and maturity. What he accomplished is not easy. In fact, the fourth-place finish was the best by an amateur in a non-major/WGC opposite field PGA Tour event since Justin Rose placed T4 at the Open Championship in 1998.
Since McCoy competed as an amateur, he doesn’t get any of the prize money, which this week was worth $292,000. That’s a lot of money for just about anyone, not to mention a college senior who estimates he has $350 in the bank at the moment. Spieth told him not to look at the prize-money chart that’s posted in the scoring trailer, where they sign they scorecards, so that the pros know how much money to expect to be deposited in their accounts on Monday. But McCoy couldn’t help himself. He checked to see how much money he missed out. He wished he hadn’t.
“We were sitting in the scoring tent and it was a sheet with the winnings there and (Spieth) told me not to look,” said McCoy. “I looked. I shouldn’t have looked. Lot of money. Lot of money.
“It hurt, but there’s so much going great for me right now. I’m just trying to take it all in, just really grateful to be standing here.”
Spieth didn’t have his A-game on Sunday, posting a two-over 73 and dropping to T18, and while he was disappointed with his own play, he only had praise for McCoy.
“It was really special,” said Spieth, referring to McCoy’s round. “It was really cool to watch.
“We had, I think, played together maybe three, four years ago in an event, but I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, especially on a day like today in his home town and it was really impressive stuff.
“You would have thought he was out here (on Tour) for years, working the ball both ways. The way he was talking, couldn’t sense any nerves or anything on his putting stroke, either. He’s certainly really ready to be out here. It was really fun to watch.”
It’s okay, Jordan, you haven’t done so badly yourself! McCoy was already simple in awe of getting a tee time with Spieth Sunday afternoon in the final round of a PGA Tour event.
“Pinch me, man,” said McCoy. “It was really special. I know Jordan didn’t have his best stuff today. It was playing so, so tough. I can’t really take any pride in beating him today. I think he’s got me by a hair right now career-wise.
“We are the same age. May not seem like it. He’s done some incredible stuff in the game of golf. Just being able to kind pick his brain a little bit today, just kind of see how he goes about his business was a really cool experience.”
McCoy also only had high praise for Spieth.
“The guy has got so much class and he really treated me like I belong out here and that meant a lot,” he said.
McCoy, who grew up near Innisbrook, won’t have time to celebrate with his friends and family, though, unfortunately. At least in style. That will have to wait as he has to drive seven and a half hours back to school in Athens, Georgia, as his team is hosting a college tournament Monday. Oh, it’s also going to be a 36-hole day.
“Luckily we’re riding in carts,” said McCoy, who earned All-American honors last year, thanks to his four individual wins. “That’s the little bit of hope I’m hanging on to right now.”
McCoy is scheduled to play PGA Tour Canada Qualifying School next month at Carlton Oaks Golf Club in Santee, Calif. Then, after the NCAA Championships in June, he plans to turn pro and try to get into some events on sponsor’s exemptions — his performance Sunday should help that effort a bit.
For now, he’s got a long drive and even longer day ahead of him, but no doubt he’ll be beaming with pride while he recalls the amazing memories from the week before.
“What a dream come true,” said McCoy. “My dream was always to get a Thursday tee time. You know, being in contention on Sunday, playing with Jordan Spieth was certainly not what I was expecting at the beginning of the week.
“You know, I was really out there just trying to soak it all in and stick to my game plan and played a little bit better than I might have even expected under some really tough conditions today.”
Meanwhile, after holding the lead for most of the day, Bill Haas bogeyed two of his last four holes to drop to seven-under, which forced a playoff against Charl Schwartzel, who vaulted up the leaderboard with a solid four-under 67 in the final round. On the first extra hole, the par-4 18th, Haas sprayed his tee shot to the right trees, knocked his approach into a bunker and then hit a terrible sand shot to 20 feet and missed the putt. Schwartzel played the hole and carded a textbook par for the win.
“That bunker shot, a 12 handicapper could have done that,” said Haas after losing in the playoff. “That was pretty bad.”
I thought Haas’ quotes and instant reactions were actually quite interesting because he sounds more candid than most after such a disappointing loss (or maybe just more media friendly?). Here are some of the ones I thought I’d share…
Q. Bill, are you going to walk away thinking you lost it or Charl put a great round together?
BILL HAAS: I mean I won’t beat myself up too bad. I got to give Charl the credit. Then again, yeah, I mean three holes to go I got a one shot lead and hit a great tee shot at 16, maybe the hardest shot of the day and hit a beautiful shot in the middle of the fairways. I’m licking my chops a little bit.
Felt really good and confident. I don’t know. 16 I was aiming left of the hole and trying to hold one against the wind. Just pushed it pretty bad. Hit it into a spot that was really difficult up and down. I don’t know what else to say.
17 that putt I hit was right in the heart. I just needed to hit it a little harder. Everybody said that all week.
Graham played better than I did today. Seemed like so many putts he hit left them short and missed a couple short ones. Just a tough week to get the ball to the hole especially on putts like that on 17 and the one I had on 18, hard to get it up there.
But, with that said, I was one putt away from winning and so you got to take the positives and say that you can do it. I hit a great iron at 17. A decent iron at 18. I thought I made the putt to win.
I’m not going to say that I gave it to him but I certainly could have shot better than 1-over today I think.
Q. He made one crazy, long birdie putt today that broke six feet.
BILL HAAS: That stuff happens. That’s what winners do and winners don’t bogey two of their last four holes they play.