Ahead Of The Class

Phil Mickelson did it on the PGA Tour. So did Scott Verplank. In recent years Pablo Martin and Danny Lee have done it in Europe. I’m taking, of course, about winning a professional tournament while still an amateur, something Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler came oh so close to doing Sunday at the Nationwide Tour’s Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, OH.

With a three-foot par putt on the second playoff hole, Nationwide Tour rookie Derek Lamley ruined Fowler’s hopes of emulating current Nationwide Tour player Daniel Summerhays’ 2007 performance in winning the Children’s Hospital Invitational as an amateur. The 29 year-old closed with a stellar 6-under 65 for an 11-under total to snatch victory from the collegiate in just his 10th Nationwide Tour start since making the finals of Q School last December.

Fowler led for much of Sunday’s final round until Lamley’s precision iron play kicked in, producing birdies on the 14, 15 and 16th holes, none coming from more further than five feet. Meanwhile, playing a couple of groups behind, Flower played steady, par golf before overshooting the 72nd green which led to his only bogey of the final round, and dropped him back into a tie with Lamley.

Both players made par on the first playoff hole, missing almost identical 18 foot birdie putts, thus sending the playoff on to the par 3 13th hole. Both players hit nervous tee shots into the second playoff hole, Fowler coming up short in the front bunker, while Lamley missed long and left of the green. From there Lamley played an extremely delicate chip shot that pitched just on the green and ran down to three feet past the hole. The Oklahoma State standout then hit his bunker shot 12 feet past the hole. His par attempt slid past the hole and Lamleybrushed in his nervous length putt to take his first Nationwide Tour title.

“A year ago I might not have even gotten that one on the green,”

Lamely said of his chip shot in the playoff.

“I might have gotten it on the green, but it definitely wouldn’t have been 3 feet.”

The $139,500 winner’s check gave the Florida native an incredible boost up the Nationwide Tour money list, catapulting him from 135th to 12th, well inside the season ending top 25 players earning their PGA Tour cards for 2010. While the result has positioned Lamley firmly in the fight to gain full exempt status on the PGA Tour, he is not letting the win get in the way of his year-end goal.  

“My goal is still the same,”

Lamely said following the win at the Scarlet Course.

“The goal still is to get on the big tour. It’s the same goal I’ve had forever. I just helped myself significantly today.”

For Walker Cup star Fowler, it was a disappointing way to end another impressive professional start. In 2008 at the U.S Open at Torrey Pines, Fowler shot 69 in the first round to hold tie for 7th. He would eventually go onto make the cut and finish 60th in that event. His burgeoning resume, which includes wins in the 2007 and 2008 Sunnehanna Amateur, the 2007 Players Amateur, as well as the Ben Hogan Award which goes to the nation’s top collegiate player in 2007/08 (Fowler was the first to do it as a freshman).

“I hit some really good putts there at the end and they just didn’t go in,”

Fowler said.

“I was giving myself good looks all day. I struggled a little bit coming in and thought I hit some good shots there on 18.”

A 2007 Walker Cup member, Fowler has announced he will participate in the 2009 cross-Atlantic battle and following that he will forgo his final two years of college to turn professional.

He told Newsok.com two weeks ago that he was “100 percent” certain he would be turning professional by the end of the summer, adding, “If it wasn’t for the Walker Cup, I’d probably be turning earlier.”

His next start will be at the U.S Amateur at Southern Hills in Tulsa where he will be the consensus favourite, while his first start as a professional is slated to be the Nationwide Tour’s Seboba Class which kicks off on October 1st.

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