It came down to the final tournament of the season for Tim Wilkinson, as he tried to keep his career alive on the Dye’s Valley course at TPC Sawgrass. No one talks about Dye’s Valley, usually. It plays second fiddle to the Stadium Course, with its famous Island green and its status as the venue for the PGA Tour’s unofficial ‘fifth major’, the Players’ Championship.
Today they talked about Dye’s Valley, though, because today 50 golfers got handed golf’s greatest ticket of all: a PGA Tour Card. Among them was Tim Wilkinson, the Palmerston North pro who needed a top 25 finals finish to retain his card, and who finished tied for 20th.
As ever in professional golf, the line between another year of grafting it out on the second tier Web.com tour and stalking the courses with the biggest names in the game was appallingly fine. Wilkinson bogeyed the final hole and put his fate in the lap of the Gods. Today they smiled upon him. Today he tasted salvation.
Tim Wilkinson is tough. His season reads like a road map of despair: In 28 Tour events this year he has missed the cut 19 times, and finished in the Top 25 once. That was in July this year when he finished tied for 22nd at the RBC Canadian Open. All up he earned US$171,654 in prize money. To put that in perspective, that is US$11,858,811 dollars less than Jordan Speith and a shade under US$3.8 million less than his compatriot Danny Lee.
The last four weeks of Wilkinson’s life have been a season –saving graft. In a month Wilkinson has been forced to follow the tour train from The Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Indiana to the Small Business Connection Championship at River Run, Davidson, North Carolina to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio, to the final, all or nothing, Web.com Tour Championship in Ponte Vedre Beach, Florida. This is not life in golf’s fast lane; this is a crawl through a 3000-kilometre traffic jam of aspiration and desperation.
Much bigger names blew out this month. Australia’s Robert Allenby was one. His rapid and painful decline as a golfer and as a person hit rock bottom at Dye’s Valley. That is, if he hadn’t already bottomed out after faking his own kidnapping in Hawaii and sacking his caddy mid-round this year. Allenby, who finished just a handful of ranking spots above Wilkinson on the PGA Tour standings finished 81st. Matthew Goggin, another long-time Aussie pro, was spat out the back. Stuart Appleby tied for 102nd.
Failure wasn’t an option for Wilkinson. He just did what Wilkinson does: hit pars all tournament long. He finished the Web.com Tour Championship with 54 of them, ranking second overall. He hit just 12 birdies, ranking 59th. It was, in a word, unspectacular. And that’s as good a word as any to describe a season with 19 missed cuts.
It doesn’t matter now of course, because he has his card again, 12 years after he played his first ever PGA Tour event, The Deutsche Bank Championship. On that occasion, Tim Wilkinson made the cut.
The trick for Wilkinson now is to find his accuracy from the tee, to rediscover the consistency of his 2013-14 season on tour when he made 18 of 25 cuts and ended the season with a career-high 3 top-ten and 6 top-25 finishes. At least he, unlike so many others, will get the chance to do just that.
Spare a thought though for American Eric Axley. He started the week in 20th place on the finals rankings. He missed the cut and finished 26th.
There could be no crueller way to end a golfing season than that.