PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — For all of you golf fans out there feeling bad about yourselves because you don’t know much about Ted Potter, Jr. — the new King of the Crosby — don’t despair, because his colleagues are equally clueless. Asked on Sunday if he could share any anecdotes about Potter, Kevin Na said, “Sorry, I don’t know anything about him.” Paul Casey added, “I have nothing for you. I honestly couldn’t pick him out of…no I don’t want to say that, because it might come across wrong. I’m sure he’s a lovely fellow. I just don’t know him.”
It turns out that Potter is a badass cleverly disguised by a doughy, placid exterior. He roared into contention with a third-round 62 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, of which Casey says, “That was a sh*t-hot round. I came in freezing to death having shot level par and felt okay about that. I don’t think anybody saw a 62 out there.”
Yet Potter was little more than an afterthought heading into the final round, as world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was looking to win his second straight PGA Tour start and a resurgent Jason Day was lurking, as was the onetime prince of Pebble, Phil Mickelson. These three Hall of Fame talents boasted more than 300 combined top-10s on the PGA Tour. Potter, 34, had three.
When he three-jacked the first hole of the final round it seemed only a matter of time until Potter exited stage right. But Potter has been to hell and back on the golf course and he was not inclined to give up the ghost.
In 2004, when Potter was just trying to launch his pro career, he missed the cut at all 24 of his starts on the Web.com tour. That would have broken a lesser competitor, but Potter rebuilt his self-esteem on the Hooters tour, winning 12 times over the next half-decade and twice being named player of the year. (Including mini tours of all shapes and sizes, Potter estimates he has around 60 professional victories, the value of which can’t be overstated.)
In 2011, he won a Web.com event as a Monday qualifier and went on to play his way into the big leagues. Potter’s playoff victory the following year at the Greenbrier Classic was one of the season’s little surprises. Over the next two years he quietly went about making a nice living but in July 2014 he shattered his right ankle tripping over a curb in flip-flops. It took two surgeries, 12 screws and a pair of metal plates to put Potter’s ankle back together. He was sidelined for two years and then rehabbed his game on the Web.
All of this helps explain the want and will he unleashed on Pebble on Sunday. After the opening bogey, Potter birdied four of the next six holes, including a chip-in on No. 7 that was shades of Tom Kite at the ’92 U.S. Open. That pushed Potter to 17 under and over the ensuing 11 holes he simply refused to make a bogey, pouring in crucial par-saves and hitting a series of solid, savvy shot as the wind freshened.
Mickelson posted a sporty 67 but it wasn’t nearly enough, as he started the day five back. Still, he was feeling bullish after his second top-five finish in as many weeks. Says Mickelson, “I’m hitting it as well as I have in a long time.”
Day made three bogies in the middle of his round to doom his chances of victory. Among the runner-ups, Johnson’s performance was the most disappointing. When he birdied Pebble Beach’s 7th hole on Saturday he reached 16 under and led by four. It looked like he was on his way to another overpowering victory, but Johnson made seven bogies over the ensuing 29 holes, undone by loose iron shots and middling putting.
The tie for second is DJ’s eighth career top-10 at the Pro-Am, but his dominance at Pebble Beach is overrated: Johnson’s first win, in 2009, came when the final round was washed out, and for his second victory a year later he limped home with a 74. (Let’s not even discuss his closing 82 to boot away the 2010 U.S. Open.) Johnson described his final round as “not terrible,” which was rather charitable.
As for Potter, he said afterward that this was the finest golf he had ever played. He now joins the golf royalty that is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am past champions, including Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, Nelson, Watson, Miller, Casper, Irwin, Stewart, Singh, Crenshaw, and Irwin. Guys like Na may not know Potter personally but they certainly respect his journey.
“The guy disappears for three years and then comes back and wins at Pebble Beach?” Na said Sunday. “That’s impressive. Good for him. I like stories like that.”