Turns out that January 20, 2019 was not a nightmare for ALL New Orleans natives.
Born in the Crescent City 31 years ago, Adam Long, the underdog of underdogs, pulled off a shocking victory at the 60th Desert Classic. Not only did a man who had made just five previous PGA Tour starts, with nothing better than a tie for 63rd, pull off an improbable win, but he did it by outdueling PGA Tour legend Phil Mickelson down the stretch.
Mickelson, looking for PGA Tour victory No. 44 of his own, began the final day at La Quinta GC with a two-shot lead, but a substandard start and uncharacteristic troubles with his putter put a number of other players in the mix. The most notable of those players was Adam Hadwin, a man who once shot a 59 in this very event. At one point on the back nine, Hadwin had a two-stroke lead of his own, but the Canadian stagnated over his final seven holes, while Mickelson got himself back on track, and Long got hot.
Standing on the 18th tee box, all playing in the final pairing, Mickelson, Hadwin, and Long were tied at -26. Mickelson pared, Hadwin pared, and Long? He did not par. Despite an awkward lie in the rough off his tee shot, Long hit an immaculate, tournament-defining approach to 15 feet from the hole, and with immense pressure, sank his birdie putt to shoot a bogey-free 7-under 65 and win the Desert Classic.
An absolute unknown, a man whose only previous win as a professional had come in a 2011 event on the similarly unknown Hooters Tour, stunned the golf world, taking down a sports heavyweight with the 9th most victories in PGA Tour history in the process.
This gets said about a lot of Tour winners, but it is especially true this week: this victory was life-changing for Adam Long.
1. Adam Long -26
2. Phil Mickelson -25
2. Adam Hadwin -25
4. Talor Gooch -24
5. Dominic Bozzelli -22
6. Jon Rahm -21
7. JT Poston -19
7. Vaughn Taylor -19
9. Sean O’Hair -18
9. Michael Thompson -18
9. Patrick Cantlay -18
T12 Lucas Glover, Daniel Berger -17
T18 Abraham Ancer, Russell Knox -16
T28 Chez Reavie, Zach Johnson -15
T34 Charles Howell III, Justin Rose -14
T40 Si Woo Kim -13
T57 Kevin Kisner, James Hahn -11
How Adam Long Won the Desert Classic
Long, a Duke University product, was three strokes back of Mickelson to start the final day, playing himself into Sunday’s final threesome after shooting 63-71-63 the previous three days. The Desert Classic utilizes three courses, with everyone coming back to the Stadium Course on the final day, and that 71 on Friday had been Long’s score in his first Stadium Course attempt.
Playing with Mickelson and Hadwin, and having never been in anything remotely close to this position before, Long’s odds were especially long (sorry), but the moment never looked too big for him.
Long got off to a tremendous start with back-to-back birdies, getting himself to within one stroke of the lead with 16 holes to go. A birdie on 9 got him to 3-under on the day at the turn, and then, when most in his position would have wilted, Long put his foot on the gas, shooting 4-under on the back nine to shoot 7-under for the day.
Two of his four back nine birdies, on 12 and 15, were hole-ins from just off the green. Also impressively, he shot 7-under for the day despite carding pars on all four par-5 holes.
For the week, Long tallied 24 birdies and 3 eagles, while only three of 72 holes resulted in a score higher than par. Statistically, his putting was the strongest part of his game, but overall, he showed little weakness in any facet.
What This Means For Adam Long
Well, people know who Adam Long is now. They did not after four previous starts on the season, starts that resulted in finishes of T63, CUT, CUT, CUT, respectively, making his week at La Quinta even more improbable and impressive.
Long’s victory resulted in a precipitous rise up the Official World Golf Rankings, as he started the week ranked 417th, and now sits at 133rd. He earned his first trip to The Masters, which will be just the second major championship start of his career (he qualified for the 2011 U.S. Open, but missed the cut).
Put succinctly, Long will have a MUCH more regular presence on the PGA Tour.
Long’s 65 tied three other golfers for the low round of Sunday. The one man to eclipse him on the final day was Talor Gooch, who shot an 8-under 64. Gooch blazed into contention early with six birdies over his first eight holes, before adding three more on the back nine.
Gooch’s solo-fourth place finish was the first top 10 of his 33-start PGA Tour career.
Forty-two year-old Vaughn Taylor, consistently one of the shortest hitters on Tour, was at 8-under himself with just two holes to go, but a double-bogey on 17 dropped him to a still-stellar 66 for the final round.
Taylor, a three-time winner on Tour, finished the Desert Classic in a tie for 7th, his best finish in nearly three years.
Defending champion Jon Rahm played well on Sunday, using four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine to shoot a 5-under 67. Rahm, who was one of two players in the field who ranked inside the top 10 of the world rankings (Justin Rose was the other) finished in solo-sixth place, his third consecutive start inside the top 8.
Steve Marino has struggled badly in limited starts over the past eight seasons, but had himself in fourth place coming into Sunday, just four strokes back of Mickelson’s lead. A great finish would have been especially significant for Marino, as he was on the last start of a major medical exemption and needed to finish at least second to keep his PGA Tour card.
Marino had arguably the shot of the day when he holed-in for eagle on the par 4 7th hole, but he did little else, and ended up shooting a 2-over 74 to drop into a tie for 18th place.
California native Patrick Cantlay is coming off a remarkable 2018 season, had finished inside the top 7 of his last three starts, and was just five strokes back of the 54-hole lead at La Quinta. His great recent form made it even more surprising that he shot a very pedestrian 1-under 71 on Sunday, when a great round could have challenged the leaders.
Cantlay still finished T9, but it was not the close he was looking for.
Curtis Luck finished the Desert Classic as poorly as he had started the tournament spectacularly. Luck was in second place after shooting rounds of 64 and 66 on the first two days, but plummeted down the leaderboard after a third-round 76 where he finished double bogey, double bogey, bogey. The 22-year-old Aussie was only marginally better on Sunday, shooting a 3-over 75 to finish in a disappointing tie for 70th for the week.
“No, it was the first time I met him [Phil Mickelson] and I met him in the tent beforehand and he’s like, let’s have some fun today. And, I mean, he’s a pretty outgoing guy, I think being paired with him was pretty fun. It was cool. He and Adam knew each other a little bit, I think they played together before, and I think I tagged along and had some input here and there. But I was trying to enjoy it and focus on my own game, really.”
– Adam Long