On Sunday Kevin Chappell won for the first time on the PGA TOUR. I was shocked; not because Chappell won but because it took him so long to do it. We (our Golf Channel production team) met Chappell for the first time in 2010. He was a little more than a year out of UCLA where he was honored as the Collegiate Player of the Year and part of a National Championship team. He was teeing it up in the first of 15 Nationwide Tour events we would televise in 2010; something called The Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae, just outside San Francisco.
Kevin Chappell was a 23 year-old cocky kid, with a flat billed cap and a ton of talent, who survived a windy, wacky golf course to collect his first win as a pro. He birdied the 17th then made a great par at 18 to shoot a final round 65 and beat David Hearn by a shot. Chappell was a “can’t-miss kid” who, by all accounts, was now on his way to fame, fortune and a boatload of trophies. He beat a host of other “can’t miss kids” that week including Bubba Dickerson, Jason Gore, Chris Nallen, Nick Flanagan, Casey Wittenberg, Brad Elder, Colt Knost, Luke List and Jamie Lovemark. Then, as now, that professional golf tour was full of tremendously talented young players. Picking the ones that would go on to have long and successful careers on the PGA TOUR was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Lovemark, for instance, was two years younger than Chappell, attended rival USC, and was an acclaimed collegiate player too. During his sophomore season as a Trojan he won an NCAA individual championship and every award under the sun. In October of 2009 he ended regulation at the PGA TOUR’s FRYS.com Open in Scottsdale tied for first with Rickie Fowler and Troy Matteson; eventually losing to Matteson in a playoff. On the Nationwide Tour the following year (the year Chappell won) he also collected a victory, though not on TV, and went on to be that tour’s leading money winner and Player of the Year. Jamie Lovemark is currently a member of the PGA TOUR and he is still waiting for his first win on golf’s top stage.
Chappell’s win in San Antonio prompted me to go back in time and remember who else won, on The Golf Channel’s Nationwide Tour air, and off it that same year; 2010. The results might surprise you. Tournaments not televised that year were won by Jim Herman, Steve Pate, Martin Piller, Chris Kirk (he actually won twice), Jhonattan Vegas, Hunter Haas and Scott Gardiner. All but Gardiner are still playing the game professionally on one tour or another. The trophy takers ON TV was another amazing group.
After Chappell won in Northern California we took our cameras to Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, Canada, Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, California, and Florida. We watched Ewan Porter, Justin Hicks, Peter Tomasulo, D.J. Brigman, Michael Putnam and David Mathis win. We also witnessed and celebrated victories by Jason Gore, Brendan Steele, Steven Bowditch, and Kevin Kisner. We watched Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey grab winner’s checks for each glove.
Surprising all of us, Steele, Bowditch, Kisner and Gainey all went on to win on the PGA TOUR before Chappell. Hicks, Tomasulo, Brigman, Putnam and Gore (who won his only PGA TOUR title in 2005) are still chasing the dream. Ewan Porter is now an adventurer, entrepreneur and author. I don’t know what happened to David Mathis.
It never ceases to amaze me how good each of these guys had to be to win even one tournament on the Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com Tour; let alone take it to the next level and win on the PGA TOUR. Some of those guys (Chappell, Gore, Kisner, Steele) are millionaires many times over and you’d be crazy to think that they are done winning at the game’s highest level. But heck, back in 2010 we all thought Kevin Chappell would win again in a matter of months, not EIGHT years! We must have been crazy then too.
I was in the car, coming home from hitting balls, listening to the PGA TOUR radio coverage of the Valero Texas Open. I heard the analyst ( a multiple time PGA TOUR winner himself) say as the extremely talented Tony Finau finished off another great tournament without a win, “Tony didn’t get it done this week but there will no doubt be many weeks in his future that he does get it done!” Really!? Why!? Because he hits it a mile? Because he’s a decent iron player? Because when he gets on a roll, he can “roll his golf ball”!? So can every other guy out there and hundreds more who are headed out there. It’s a better bet that Tony Finau, the 2016 Puerto Rico Open Champion, never wins again on the PGA TOUR or that Kevin Chappell wins another one, two or three before he does.
The bottom line is nobody knows, especially not the “experts” on TV and radio. Ask Colt Knost, Ryo Ishikawa, Bud Cauley, Jeff Overton or Briny Baird if any of them thought their PGA TOUR trophy cases would still be empty. Then go shoot Mark Wilson or Ben Crane full of truth serum and ask if they thought they’d each win five.
I’m just glad Kevin Chappell finally won his first