GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA | In saying nothing for a moment, Chesson Hadley said everything.
With a television camera trained on him just moments after he signed for a final-round 62 that could literally alter the course of his career, the puddles forming in Hadley’s eyes told the story of how many PGA Tour players exist.
Six other guys would set off a few minutes later in a playoff for the Wyndham Championship trophy that resembled a member-guest shootout, while Hadley was left to wonder whether one of the best golf days of his life would be good enough to squeeze him into the FedEx Cup playoffs and – no small byproduct – secure his full playing privileges next season.
Not only did Hadley shoot 62 on a Sunday when he desperately needed it, he made the first hole-in-one of his life – an astonishing reality for a 34-year old PGA Tour player – and the now-viral video of his splay-legged reaction will follow him forever.
All of it left one question hanging in the muggy August air: Was Hadley’s best good enough?
It turned out to be just enough – thanks to a Justin Rose three-putt bogey on the 72nd hole, when a birdie would have gotten the Englishman into the crowded playoff – but Hadley’s story was just one emotional thread in the fabric of this Wyndham Championship.
This was the third time Roger Sloan came to the regular-season finale needing to play his way into the playoffs. The first two times he failed to do so. This time, when he needed to play the last three holes in level par, Sloan made two birdies and found himself in the playoff, in the playoffs and set for another season.
Earlier in the week, Ryan Armour, Patrick Rodgers and Bo Hoag had teed off inside the top 125 and when they all failed to make the cut, they could cancel their flights to New York for the Northern Trust this week.
Matt Kuchar, who has made the playoffs all 15 years, played his way in with a final-round 66, while Scott Piercy did the same with a solid week.
Then there was Rose, a former FedEx Cup champion who was also playing to convince European Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington to use one of his three at-large picks on him next month at Whistling Straits. He started the week at No. 138, was projected at No. 126 when the final round began and he was right there – until he wasn’t.
“That's kind of what the playoffs are all about, right? It's a knife-edged moment,” said Rose, the 2018 FedEx Cup champion who also has never missed the PGA Tour’s postseason previously.
“I've been on the winning side at East Lake where a bogey was costly and a birdie got me back into the projected No. 1 spot, so I've been on the right side of it and maybe on the wrong side today. Yeah, it's not nice when it's not in your hands, but obviously it was in my hands up 18. I didn't do a very good job of that.”
“It’s unbelievable how every single year it comes down to one shot. That could be me. You hate it. It’s terrible."
Rose has won 24 times around the world including a U.S. Open. He’ll be fine despite the disappointment.
Thin as an out-of-bounds stake, Hadley is a 34-year-old father of three whose only PGA Tour win came seven years ago in Puerto Rico in an opposite field event. Hadley’s distinction is the way he snaps his fingers when he makes a birdie, something he hasn’t done often enough this year.
He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife and children, one of whom he could drive to her first day of kindergarten Monday morning. While other tour players wear the logos of high-end automobiles and investment firms, Hadley wears a red Bojangles logo, repping the Cajun-spiced fried chicken restaurant prominent throughout the Southeast.
Hadley had two airline reservations for this week – one to New York for the Northern Trust, the other to Boise, Idaho, where the Korn Ferry Tour finals begin, offering him another chance to earn his full PGA Tour privileges had Sunday not happened.
As Hadley’s eyes brimmed with tears during a national television interview after his round followed by an emotional session with the on-site media, he still didn’t know if he was in or out. During one of Hadley’s interviews, PGA Tour official Tom Alter, who oversees the complicated FedEx Cup points program, told Hadley he was still five points out of 125th place.
“Life’s going to go on one way or another. I’d love to get on a plane to New York. I’ve got a flight booked to Boise, too. Man, I would love to not have to get on that plane,” Hadley said while waiting. “This game is so hard. People have no idea. Not a clue. Probably like I don’t have a clue how hard the NBA is. People have no idea how hard it is to do what we do, with the travel, just everything. You can be doing all the right things and, I guess that’s life, and you don’t get rewarded for it.
“Golf is the perfect representation of life. It’s been frustrating, but then you have days like today and it’s amazing.”
Playing so early Sunday morning that the on-site Margaritaville party tent couldn’t sell adult libations for a while, Hadley energized the muggy morning when he aced the par-3 16th hole (his seventh hole of the day).
If you’ve ever wondered what a 6-foot-4, 165-pound guy looks like when he gets excited, take a peek at the Hadley video.
“We'll call that the flying baby giraffe,” Hadley said. “My legs kind of go out to the side and it just doesn't look very good, so I apologize for all us golfers out here. I keep digging us a hole as far as the non-athletic kind of stereotype.”
After 26 events and all that comes with those, Hadley was left wondering if one swing across all of those days would be the difference in keeping his card or having conditional status next season on the PGA Tour.
There was a 3-footer he missed earlier in the week at Sedgefield Country Club that stayed with him, but a closing 62 with an ace when he needed all the magic he could summon sent Hadley on the road home with a sense of satisfaction regardless of whether he was No. 125 or No. 126.
“It’s unbelievable how every single year it comes down to one shot. That could be me. You hate it. It’s terrible,” Hadley said. “I did all I could do. That I can be proud of. I can sleep good knowing today it was all out.”
At home, Hadley had a high-end bottle of cabernet he’d been saving for a special occasion. It was time to open it.
“Today was a good day,” Hadley said.
He was making the 75-minute drive home late Sunday afternoon when he checked with Alter to be sure what he’d heard was right – Rose’s closing bogey had pushed him to No. 125.
“He screamed with delight,” Alter said.
Hadley could cancel the flight to Boise. He was off to New York City – and next season.
Top: Justin Rose missed out on the FedEx Cup playoffs.