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Thu Apr 17 12:15:50 SAST 2014

Potter - the surprise package of the year

TEAMtalk Media | 09 July, 2012 11:570 Comments
Greenbrier Classic - Final Round
Ted Potter, Jr. watches his tee shot on the third hole during the final round of the Greenbrier Classic at the Old White TPC on July 8, 2012 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
Image by: Hunter Martin / Getty Images

Ted Potter Jnr, the little-known left-hander who won the Greenbrier Classic on Sunday, just has to be the US PGA Tour's surprise package of the year.

No winner in 2012 can claim to have a background as humble as he has.

The 29-year-old Florida native has never had a coach or any coaching aside from his father, a golf course maintenance worker who was responsible for getting him into golf, and, as a 29-year-old graduate of the 2011 Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour), he is only in his first season on the PGA Tour with a record that by no stretch of the imagination suggested that his first win was on the cards this weekend past.

And this at Old White TPC, a recently toughened up course that saw Tiger Woods heading home early, US Open champion and overnight leader Webb Simpson implode coming down the final stretch and 2012 US Ryder Cup prospects like Dustin Johnson, Bill Haas and JB Holmes trail him home by nine shots and more.

Yet Potter, who has spent a decade of frustration graduating and then dropping out of a variety of tours and had had no more than two top 25 finishes and 7 missed cuts in 17 starts in this his maiden year on the PGA Tour when he teed in the Greenbrier last week, went out there on Sunday and closed with an eagle and a birdie and a stunning 64 that put him into a play-off with Troy Kelly, another of the unheralded players in the field.

It took him three holes to win the play-off, take his annual earnings to $1,274,904, secure his Tour Card for the next few years and gain entry into some tournaments he hardly thought possible just a few days ago, including the Open Championship in two weeks time, the FedExCup Playoffs later this year and next year's Masters, but Potter didn't mind the wait.

Nothing had ever come easily and he has learnt to be patient.

For although he is only in his first year in big time golf, he's been bashing away at finding fame and fortune on the golf course since turning pro in his late teens and going straight out of school to work in the cart barn at the Lake Diamond Golf & Country Club in Ocala, Florida, while he laboured at getting his handicap down to below scratch so that he could get into professional golf in one of the USA's feeder tours.

And he did - with a vengeance. He was soon dominating the Hooters Tour, where he would go on to win 14 times, make $650,000, an exceptionally high figure for a mini-Tour, and was twice named Player of the Year.

It was a great start, but there would not be too many other great years during most of his 20s.

He missed 24 cuts in 24 starts in his first year on the Nationwide Tour and found himself dumped back into the mini-tours where he would stay for three more frustrating years before he finally made it back onto the Nationwide in 2007.

Things didn't go much better second time around, though. This time he missed 15 of 20 cuts

Many men would have given up after that and headed back to working at a golf club, but Potter was passionate about playing as a professional and hung in.

He kept slugging away and finally earned his PGA Tour card after finishing 11th on the Nationwide Tour last year.

"When you're missing cuts every week, you get down on yourself," Potter told The PGA Tour website this week, "It's hard to pick yourself back up. But the one plus side for me was that I was still young. And I knew already when I was 20 that I had a long road ahead of me."

He had another wait on Sunday to see if he would make the play-off, but reasoned, "What's an extra hour when you have been waiting for it your whole life?"

Potter, who stands 5ft 11in in his socks and weighs in at just over 180lbs, earned a green jack for his Greenbrier win, but although it's not quite the real thing, it has made it possible to bring to life his old cart barn dream of playing in the Masters on the hallowed turf of Augusta National and bidding for just that next year.

The Greenbrier sponsors would probably have preferred it if Tiger Woods had won and not missed the cut as he did. So too would his fans, who once more must be wondering about his current up-and-down inconsistency.

But personally I like to see the unheralded make good in a sport where survival is probably tougher than in any other. Most professional sports men and women earn money, win or lose. But not in golf.

If you are not one of the game's high-profile pros backed by sponsors and you miss the cut, you go away in the red after having to pay your caddy and your playing expenses.

Yes down there it is a real hard life, so it makes me feel good when you see men like tenacious Potter shrug it away and move into a better space.

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