John Harkey Jr. faced a five-foot putt Sunday afternoon.
And this wasn’t a typical birdie putt at his local course, Dallas National Golf Club, with his buddies.
This knee-knocker was on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, perhaps the greatest finishing hole in all of golf, in the final round of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Jim Nantz was commentating on CBS Sports in front of a national audience. Even Clint Eastwood was there. Jim Renner, Harkey Jr.’s pro for the week, glanced at the scoreboard as they walked towards the green and informed him a make would win the tournament. The putt broke ever so slightly towards the Pacific Ocean.
“I will forever remember this in my dreams as a nightmare if I miss this putt,” Harkey Jr., CEO of Consolidated Restaurant Operations, remembered thinking as he made his practice strokes in front of hundreds of fans surrounding the green.
The putt dropped in the hole, center-cut.
The birdie, a net-eagle with Harkey Jr’s handicap index of 7, capped off a net 61 – the round of the day by three shots – to push the team to 31-under for the tournament. The leaders entering Sunday, Rory Sabbatini and Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, faltered down the stretch and finished the tournament one shot behind Harkey Jr. and Renner.
Standing on the 18th hole, Harkey Jr. held his trophy next to tournament winner Jimmy Walker while he flashed a smile to a mob of photographers documenting a moment that will serve as Harkey Jr’s trump card in any golf story-swapping contest for the rest of his life.
If there was any doubt, consider that Harkey’s tee shot on No. 18 zoomed through the fairway and came to a rest directly on the cart path dividing the rough and out-of-bounds. Faced with a drop on a walkway that had become muddy by fans footsteps all week, Harkey Jr. had the marshals clear a path 100 yards ahead and launched a 5-iron off the concrete back into the fairway.
“I just said I’ll hit it off the road,” he said. “‘Then the gallery all yelled, “He’s going to hit it off the road!’ I managed to catch it perfect. It was just a really good feeling.”
The wind and rain at Pebble didn’t faze the Texan who grew up playing in stiff breezes. He only plays about once a month, so one of his biggest challenges was playing seven rounds in seven days. Harkey Jr. fought off soreness by wearing compression gear both during rounds and at night to keep his muscles loose, and instead of enjoying the famed Tap Room after rounds, he went straight to the range for more work. There he would hit balls until it was too dark to see where the ball went. At one point, the entire range was empty except for Harkey Jr. and musician Kenny G.
“That was pretty cool,” Harkey Jr. said.
One night in a player-and-family only dinner, Clint Eastwood, Huey Lewis, Davis Love III and Jim Nantz held an impromptu fireside chat discussing the history of Pebble Beach and the tournament. Harkey Jr. met Peyton Manning and Ray Romano. Huey Lewis preformed, then Darius Rucker was brought on stage, then Kenny G, then Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts sang, and finally Clay Walker.
“People just started dancing and hanging out,” Harkey Jr. said. “It was just for players and immediate family, so it felt so casual. It wasn’t pretentious, but it did end at 9 p.m. because everyone had to be at the course the next morning.”
Being paired with a lesser-known Tour pro allowed Harkey Jr. to relax on the course. Renner, a Oklahoma graduate, meshed well with Harkey Jr., who holds one of his degrees from the rival University of Texas. Renner had missed all three cuts to start 2014, but charged up the leaderboard on Sunday with a final-round 67 to tie for second place with Dustin Johnson. Harkey Jr. hadn’t played at Pebble Beach in more than 20 years, but never felt timid on the course’s grand stage.
“You had to be focused on wind, rain, etiquette and actually playing golf; You didn’t have time to be nervous,” he said. “The guys were very nice to me and complimented me a few times. I didn’t feel like I shouldn’t be there.”
At the pro-am before the 2012 HP Byron Nelson Classic, Harkey Jr. played with eventual tournament champ Jason Dufner (when Harkey Jr. asked Dufner why he didn’t take practice swings on the green, Duf quipped “You don’t take practice swings when you bowl do you?”), so Harkey Jr. broke the ice with Renner by telling him that he was a lucky playing partner. And it proved true. Harkey Jr. didn’t lose a single ball in four rounds. The only close call occurred on No. 17 on Sunday, when he airmailed his tee shot on the 203-yard par 3 and struck a lady in the thigh. That saved the ball from bounding towards the ocean.
“For an amateur, it was a humbling and wonderful experience,” Harkey Jr. said. “I could do it 1,000 times and not experience the same outcome.”