This is a good story. Vaughn Taylor shot a 7-under par 65 today for a 17-under 270 total to beat Phil Mickelson by one stroke to win the PGA Tour’s AT&T Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Taylor was 447th in World Sony rankings and therefore wasn’t even an exempt player on the big Tour. He had been competing on the Web.com Tour and got an alternate spot in this tournament at the last moment. I’d say Taylor was on the brink of considering giving up professional golf. But he says he wasn’t.
Mickelson has 42 PGA Tour wins to his credit and therefore was the most successful pro in the field. He started the last round today with a two shot lead. Plus, Mickelson had won this tournament four times.
Taylor hadn’t won much at all. He had only won the Reno-Tahoe Open twice, in 2004 and 2005, when it was scheduled opposite a World Golf Championship and thus without the PGA Tour’s best players. Sometime after that, Vaughn Taylor lost his game and therefore lost his exempt status on the regular Tour. It resulted in him playing what I call the junior Tour–Web.com Tour–since 2012.
Since Mickelson led the tournament starting the day, he was paired in the last group. Taylor, in front, birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine to finish ahead of Mickelson and wait it out. Phil was just short of the par-four 18th green in two with a sixty-foot shot to make a birdie four to tie Taylor and force an immediate sudden-death playoff. But Phil Mickelson, a short game wizard, left his pitch shot five feet short of the hole. Believe me, on West Coast greens near the Pacific Ocean–with poanna grass in those bent grass greens–that’s no gimme, even for Phil Mickelson. I’d say he had about a 75-80% chance of making the putt. But he rimmed out and the W went to Vaughn Taylor, enriching his bank account $1.25 million. No wonder about what we watched on TV right after Phil missed that putt. Vaughn and his wife hugged a long time as she shed tears of joy.
Playing the very short, downhill, par-three 7th hole, I was leading the tournament by one stroke over Jack Nicklaus, the eventual winner. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before. In those days we wore golf shoes with metal spikes that could make some nasty spike marks on the greens. I had one in my line on my second putt on that hole, and the putt was only 18 inches long. I hit the putt, the ball hit the spike mark, which kicked it ball off line, and it missed the hole without even touching the rim. Then the next hole I three-putted from six feet. On the par-five 14th hole, I went for the pin with a wedge on my third shot and the ball buried near the lip of the bunker. It was a strategic mistake. I should not have shot for the pin but played safe to the right side of the green. I saw others there today make the same mistake. But they didn’t walk off that green like I did, with an 8 for that hole. I think that’s the highest score that I ever made on a hole in my pro golf career.
On the last hole that day, I drove in the fairway near that tree. As Bruce Crampton, my playing partner, and I approached our second shots, some policemen stopped us to explain a commotion. Three hippies with signs saying “Peace” had only minutes earlier run out on the fairway and chained themselves to that tree with a lock. I don’t know what they did with the key. Maybe one of them smiled and swallowed it. Who knows. All I know is that I wasn’t in a very peaceful mood. Bruce and I wondered if those hippies were going to yell in our backswings. I finished that very windy day with a par for a miserable 79 to finish sixth in the tournament.