News & Opinion

Potter outshines golf’s stars at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It could have been a great playoff, with major champions Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson finishing at 14 under Sunday at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

The trio, along with a resurgent Chez Reavie, would have trekked to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole, fans scurrying after a group with seven combined major championships in a duel sure to become part of Pebble Beach lore.

However, they all tied for second as Ted Potter Jr. stared down some of the PGA Tour’s top stars. Potter cruised to a three-stroke victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, closing with a 3-under 69 for a 17-under 270 total. Day (70), Johnson (72), Mickelson (67) and Reavie (68) tied at 273 (scores: http://bit.ly/2wE1lpy).

Potter, 34, a journeyman from Ocala, Fla., had won only once in 83 previous starts on Tour, in the 2012 Greenbrier Classic. He was paired with Johnson, who is No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, after Potter shot a career-low 62 on Monterey Peninsula’s Shore Course – despite a bogey-bogey finish – on Saturday. Las Vegas oddsmakers listed Johnson as the prohibitive favorite, at 6-5, with Potter a 10-1 pick.

“I'm sure everybody knew probably going into this tournament Dustin's probably going to win the golf tournament, so I knew I'm the underdog there,” Potter mused after his win. “What do I got to lose, really? Just go out there and try to play the best golf I could today and see what happens.”

After a bogey at the first hole, Potter birdied four of the next six to take control, then finished with 11 consecutive pars.

That’s not the sort of unflappable play that led Potter to five missed cuts in his first eight starts this season, when he had made only one top-25 finish, a T-13 in the RSM Classic in November. In fact, two weeks before Pebble Beach, in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Potter followed an opening-round 66 with 75-74-82 for a T-73 finish.

“I have never been a hard worker, I guess, at it,” Potter said. “I mean I'm probably better than what I think I am, but I'm not a person that likes to go hit a bunch of balls on the range or just work as hard as I probably should. When I start working on it, I'll get results like this that happen. But then I'll probably back away from it a little bit and have to regroup again and force myself to work hard at it again.”

Potter has endured a long road back to the winner’s circle on Tour. He broke his right ankle in Canada in 2014 when he slipped in flip flops after missing the cut in the Canadian Open. After two surgeries – one to insert 11 pins and plates into the ankle and then another operation to remove the hardware – he needed two years of recuperation before returning to the Tour. It would take another year until he finally earned a check, for a T-37 finish at the 2017 Greenbrier Classic.

Potter spent most of last season on the Web.com Tour, trying to regain his form and return to the big Tour. He made 15 cuts in 22 starts on the developmental tour, with six top 10s.  

At Pebble Beach, his goal was simple: play well enough to get into this week’s Genesis Open at Riviera and move up in the reshuffle. The victory represents the realization of a second chance in golf for Potter. He was a legend on the central Florida mini-tours yet struggled spectacularly in his first shot at big-time golf: 24 missed cuts in 24 starts on the Nationwide Tour in 2004.

Now, with a two-year Tour exemption and a return trip to the Masters, Potter finds that his goals have increased.

“To come down – I mean, this is the first time I had led going into the final round, tied for the lead,” Potter said. “And then to close it off, it definitely builds a lot of confidence in my game, and I look forward to weeks down the road.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli