Sometimes it feels as if professional golf is made up exclusively of guys like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson. Those are the players who receive the most oxygen, get the most airtime and make the lion’s share of the money. They’re on the commercials and the marketing materials and the tournament promos in every city they visit. They are also the outliers because 99% of professional golf happens outside of their orbit.Guys like McIlroy, Thomas, Rahm and Johnson exist because they’re elite compared to the next 500 guys. You can’t have superstars if you don’t have context, and players like Chesson Hadley provide that context. Hadley has had a bizarre year. He has exactly one top-10 finish, and it came at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree just before the U.S. Open. He probably should have won, but instead shot 75 in the final round with three straight bogeys over the final three holes to touch off a mini-meltdown leading to a tie for second place.The result of that (and the rest of his season) is that he came into this week’s Wyndham Championship ranked No. 132 in the FedEx Cup standings. Finish anywhere outside of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings this week, and he’d be headed back to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which start next week. The KFT is a place Hadley has dominated as he’s won there four times in just 45 starts over the last eight years. He’s spent all of the last four years on the PGA Tour, though, and has undoubtedly enjoyed the more comfortable professional existence.To earn enough points to get into the top 125 in the FedEx Cup, Hadley knew he needed to finish 16th or better at the Wyndham. But after opening 68-69-69, he was outside the top 50 on the Wyndham leaderboard. He knew he would need a miracle close. So he went out and shot a 62, one of just two rounds better than 65 throughout the season and made the first ace of his life on the par-3 No. 16 to finish T15.
Afterward, he still didn’t know if it would be enough. At the time he was interviewed by CBS Sports’ Amanda Balionis, it wasn’t. He was narrowly on the wrong side of the top 125 when he broke down about how meaningful his closing kick and keeping a PGA Tour card is to him.
“It’s been a tough last few years,” he said. “Just to have something good happen today was special. That was my very first hole in one ever. … It was a treat. This is about as close to home as I get. I’m on the outside looking in right now, but I know some things can change.”Some things did change. Justin Rose three-putted the final hole to drop back into a tie for 10th, which gave Hadley the narrow opening he needed. When the points were added up, Rose finished 126th in the FedEx Cup standings. Hadley finished 125th and moves on to the playoffs next weekend. If he doesn’t make the ace, he doesn’t finish in the top 125. If he doesn’t shoot his second round lower than 64 in the last three years, he doesn’t finish in the top 125. That’s how thin the margins are. That’s how insane his Sunday was.
“It’s emotional because I care,” Hadley said through tears. “I’m not just out here for fun. This is my job, and I love it. I care very deeply about it, and that’s why I’m emotional.”