Ed. note: This piece is the latest submission to Knockdown Presents, in which we're giving a platform to fresh new voices from around the golf world. For more on this venture, including how to submit your own stories, click here.
Driving home after his team's final scrimmage of August camp, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney called a fellow Tiger, Doc Redman, a sophomore golfer who the next day would be playing for a national championship of his own.
It was about 9 o'clock or 9:30, and he answered the phone," Swinney said. "I didn’t think he’d answer, but he did. And we had a fun conversation. It was just awesome to see him have the mental toughness. That’s a grind right there. What a spectacular moment."
Swinney was describing, of course, Redman’s remarkable performance at the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship at Riviera Country Club, in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Pitted against Texas senior Doug Ghim in the championship match, Redman was two-down with two holes to go when he made a miraculous 60-foot putt for eagle to win the 35th hole.
"I can’t remember a bigger shot," says Larry Penley, who’s in his 35th season as head golf coach at Clemson. "Jonathan Byrd had a hole-in-one to win a Tour event in Las Vegas, the only walk-off [ace] in PGA Tour history, and Doc’s shot was right up there.
"You don’t see shots like that often when it means that much. And I think 99.9 percent of the golf world had written it off. I know [TV announcer] Curtis Strange had. He thought the match was over. But the only person who would not allow it to be over was Doc Redman."
On the final hole, Redman played a signature fade to within 10 feet, then with a dash of Tour pro-grade swagger chased after his ball as it soared toward the green. He buried the birdie putt to force extra holes — or "overtime," as Swinney called it.
That’s when Ghim collapsed and Redman conquered.
Watching the come-from-behind heroics back in Clemson was Tigers wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught the winning pass with seconds remaining to defeat Alabama in the national championship game last January.
"I was at the Swinney’s house watching with [Swinney’s son] Will," Renfrow said. "I got there right in time for Doc to hit that putt on 17, so we were going crazy.
"I had texted him earlier to go out there and have fun. That was my message. He said thanks and congratulated me on the national championship, not yet knowing he was going to win one, too. That was pretty cool."
What made it even cooler was that the 19-year-old Redman was seeded 62nd out of the 64 players who made it to the match-play portion of the Amateur. But the 5-foot-11-inch, 168-pound Redman has been an underdog his entire life. He has an unorthodox swing and cites his home course as Wildwood Green Golf Club in Raleigh: It’s open to the public and nothing like the old-money citadel in those parts, Carolina Country Club.
Redman transferred to Leesville, a public high school, after not liking the private one he attended his freshman and sophomore years. He chose Clemson over the more traditionally prestigious University of Virginia because it felt right. And had Redman not been playing the weekend at the U.S. Amateur, he likely would have been caddying back home to make some extra spending money before heading back to college.
"A lot of kids today have swing teachers and all these other gurus in their world that they don’t really care too much what a college coach thinks," Penley says. "Well, he wears [assistant coach] Jordan [Byrd] and I out. It might be 11:30 p.m., and we’ll get a text, ‘What do you think about this? Let’s try this tomorrow.’ He’s always thinking and he’s always trying to get better. He’ll have a plan, and he’ll have a process, and he’ll execute it."
Here’s Redman’s take on the instantly famous eagle putt at Riviera: "I had a good feeling about the putt kind of the whole way. I just told myself when I was walking up the fairway that first and foremost I just wanted to get it on the green because I’m a good putter and I could make it from anywhere. When I got up there, I had a good feeling about it. And, sometimes, I think that makes it a little bit easier, if you know it has to go in."
It’s easier… if you know it has to go in?
Clutch gene. You either got it or you don’t, and Redman does.
He’ll have the opportunity to showcase it again this weekend at the Los Angeles Country Club when he leads the United States team against Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup. His Clemson teammates will be monitoring the action from the Carpet Classic in Dalton, Ga.
"He’ll miss our first tournament," Penley says. "It’s kind of funny, the night after he won, he said, 'Coach, I'm sorry, I’m probably not going to be able to make it to The Farm (Golf Club).' And I said, 'Please don’t apologize for making the Walker Cup team, Doc.'"
"After the Walker Cup is over, his life will settle down until December when he gets that invitation from the tournament two hours south of us,' Penley says referring to the Masters. "Then his world will be turned upside down a little bit. Once he gets the invitation, he’ll be able to go to Augusta and practice and play any time he wants to. That’s going to be a big temptation. He’s going to want to go every day… he’s really about to broaden his golf horizons in a lot of different directions.'
Clemson has sent multiple players to the PGA Tour and Redman has aspirations of joining the likes of Lucas Glover, Kyle Stanley and Ben Martin. But for now his focus is on reppin’ the red, white and blue. The Clemson community is behind him. On Saturday night, Swinney’s third-ranked team hosts Auburn; the next day the 46th Walker Cup concludes. Does the coach have any counsel for his favorite golfer?
"I actually talked to Doc again after he won the championship," Swinney said. "I said, 'Alright that was great. But you got a lot more great moments ahead. Let’s get back to work.'"
Around Clemson, shiny hardware has now become the norm; Redman currently has possession of the Havemeyer Trophy, which is adorned with names like Jones, Palmer, Nicklaus, Mickelson and Woods. For the football team and one hard-nosed golfer, the chase continues.