MILWAUKEE(AP) Bo Van Pelt started laughing just before his final putt.
He thought back to all those times on his couch with his golfing buddies watching a pro fail in the clutch with a seemingly easy opportunity. Now, he’d left a second putt a little too far for comfort.
“Twenty feet, two putts to win, I’d get that done no problem, like that’d be the easiest thing,” Van Pelt said. “Sure enough, that’s what I had and, sure enough, I leave it 3 feet short.”
Turns out, it was just the right distance.
Van Pelt won for the first time on the PGA Tour in 229 starts with a 3-foot birdie on the second hole of a sudden death playoff over John Mallinger on Sunday at the U.S. Bank Championship and put 10 years of frustration behind him.
“It got to the point where I don’t even know if I wanted to play anymore a couple of years ago,” Van Pelt said. “Because I felt like I kept putting myself in these positions and it wasn’t ever happening. It was definitely frustrating.”
On the second playoff hole, the 29-year-old Mallinger rolled his second shot in a greenside bunker. Mallinger got out, but left himself a 28-footer for birdie that he pushed right of the hole and settled for par.
That would be plenty for Van Pelt, who had a chance on the first hole – also No. 18 – to end it, but looked nervous and missed a 13-foot eagle putt. He settled for a tap-in birdie to put the pressure on Mallinger, who made a 5-footer setting up the final scramble.
“As soon as you make a putt, you kind of get some momentum,” Mallinger said. “Bo made two great shots on 18 in the playoffs.”
Van Pelt is a towering presence at 6 feet 4, but he was a late bloomer in high school and never followed his father’s footsteps. Bob Van Pelt was drafted as a center in the fifth round in 1967 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead, the younger Van Pelt gets a $720,000 check and the satisfaction that he’s finally won on tour after finishing no better than second at the 2008 Puerto Rico Open that sent his career in a tailspin.
“I had my worst year on tour in a while last year and I lost in Puerto Rico by a shot and really had the lead the whole way and really should’ve won the golf tournament,” he said. “I think that bothered me for a long time last year because it just felt like I was playing so good and I was playing so good every time I went out and I still wasn’t getting it done.”
This time, the 34-year-old Van Pelt shot a 64 in the final round and did not have a bogey to move from 7 under to 13 under, finishing with a 4-foot putt for birdie on No. 18. Then he had to wait and watch the scoreboard. Van Pelt went to the driving range with his caddie alone and as each group came in, a few more onlookers joined him.
Mallinger, who was also looking for his first tour title, shot a 65 on Sunday and used an eagle on the par-5 15th to vault among the leaders. He also needed a short birdie putt on No. 18 to send the tournament to a playoff for the first time since 2001.
“I’ll take a lot of positives out of this, I’m just a little disappointed right now,” Mallinger said. “I felt like I was in the driver’s seat coming in after I made eagle on 15 and birdie on 16.”
The tournament must find a new title sponsor to return next season after U.S. Bank earlier announced it was ending its relationship with the 42-year-old event following a six-year run.
“We’re going to continue our efforts to try and find a sponsor, meet with people, talk with the PGA Tour and proceed on our mission,” tournament director Dan Croak said.
Croak said the PGA has not given him a deadline to find a new sponsor, but knows the sooner the better.
“I remain very hopeful,” he said.
Jerry Kelly and Steve Stricker, both from Wisconsin, are working together on a new concept for the tournament that they plan to pitch to sponsors and the PGA.
While Kelly, who finished at 12 under and in third place, said he can’t get into the specifics, one key component could be to move the event into a new time slot that isn’t opposite of the British Open.
Several PGA events are facing the same economic pressure and may not return.