Some golfers wait years and years to just have a chance to contend for their first PGA Tour win. Others do so in their first start. Garrick Higgo took the 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree on Sunday at 11 under by a stroke over six players who tied for second. It's his first start at a PGA Tour event that's not a major championship -- (he also played in the 2021 PGA Championship -- but his third win in his last five starts worldwide.
The story of Higgo's first Tour win cannot be told without telling the story of who he beat. With just three holes to go, Chesson Hadley led Higgo by three strokes but finished bogey-bogey-bogey and stumbled across the finish line to hand Higgo the victory. Meltdowns like that are always difficult to watch, even more so that Hadley was looking for his first victory in seven years.
"You know, it sucks, right?" said Hadley after his 4-over 75. "I can only imagine what it looked like on TV because it looked freaking awful from my view. I mean, I could barely keep it on the planet. That 8 iron from the fairway on that last hole is inexcusable. I just didn't have it today. It was bad and got to do better, and I will. Just got to keep after it."
His loss is Higgo's gain, though, and the 22-year-old South African earned it with a 32 on the back nine on Sunday that included an eagle at the par-5 12th hole. Though his hot putter won the day on Sunday, Higgo flushed it all week.
He's been flushing it for a while, too, winning the Canary Islands Championship and Gran Canaria Lopesan Open on the European Tour over the last two months before coming stateside to play in the PGA at Kiawah where he finished T64. This week, he hung around and hung around as Hadley tried to stave off every last threat (and there were a lot!). Higgo was the last of them, making no mistakes for the last half of his round, and Hadley was unable to hold the line any longer.
Higgo's story, as outlined here by Ben Everill, is intriguing. He spent some time in college at UNLV, where his best finish in a tournament in his first year was fifth. Though it does not seem like Higgo was ever really considered a "can't miss" kid, he keeps winning. In 49 OWGR-counting events since the start of 2018 (almost all of them as a pro), this is his seventh (!) victory across multiple tours.
Not all of those seven wins were PGA Tour (or even European Tour) victories, but they proved what Higgo proved again on Sunday: he wins. No matter the tour or the field or the event or the course, he wins golf tournaments. That's an amazing skill to have and one that won him a trophy in his very first start on the best tour in the world. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree.
Bo Van Pelt (T2): Had Van Pelt (age 46) won this week, he actually would have been the youngest golfer to win a PGA Tour event in South Carolina this year. Stewart Cink (48) won the RBC Heritage and Phil Mickelson (50) won the PGA Championship. Regardless, the top 10 is Van Pelt's first since 2015 after several years of laboring through myriad injuries. He came into the week 500-1 to win and needed to play the last 195 yards on the 72nd hole in three strokes. He unfortunately played them in four. Still, it was an amazing week for him after so much ambiguity following multiple surgeries on his shoulder and ribs. Grade: A
Dustin Johnson (T10): All things considered, it was a good week for D.J., even though the primary viewing I got of him (Saturday afternoon) was probably the worst he hit the ball all week (and possibly the worst he's capable of hitting the ball). When you combine how he played this week at Congaree from tee to green (good, not great) with his skillset for the modern U.S. Open (perfect), my interest around him picking up a second national championship is much higher now than it was this time last week. Grade: B
Tain Lee (T14): What a story. He nearly accumulated more Official World Golf Ranking points in this event than he did in his career of 84 OWGR events over the last decade. He legitimately contended with the No. 1 player in the world all over him in Round 3, and he missed finishing in the top 10 and getting into the Travelers Championship the week after the U.S. Open by a single stroke. Still, a memorable week for Lee. Grade: A
Brooks Koepka (MC): Koepka actually did not hit it that poorly but he putted horrifically, which is a sentence that could have been written about his final tune-up before the PGA Championship as well. He went on to play in the final pairing at Kiawah with Phil Mickelson, and I would not be surprised to see him in that spot again at the U.S. Open next weekend.
"Reps. That's what I need," said Koepka when asked what he took out of the week. "I just need tournament reps and trying to hit different shots on your competition. I've missed so much of the season just with the knee, where I feel like I'm already a little bit behind. I like where my game's at. I'm striking it well, putting it well. So I don't see anything wrong. It's just, like I said, maybe a little lack of focus and maybe -- these weeks before the majors, I start thinking about next week instead of where I'm at. It's not an excuse, but it just needs to be better." Grade: D