He’s a 22-year-old from South Africa, making just his second career PGA Tour start. He played college golf at UNLV and has won three times on the European Tour.
We thought we would get that out of the way first, because for most, learning that Garrick Higgo came from six strokes behind to win the Palmetto Championship at Congaree by one stroke over six players, the question is going to be “Who?”.
That is not to say that Higgo is a complete nobody. Far from it, actually. He came into the week at No. 54 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and among South Africans, he only trailed Louis Oosthuizen (18th) and Christiaan Bezuidenhout (44th).
In his last four European Tour starts, he has gone T4, WIN, T8, WIN. That most recent win was by six strokes, and even before today, he had qualified for next week’s U.S. Open. Higgo is legitimate.
Still, this result felt very unlikely to start the day at South Carolina’s Congaree Golf Club. Higgo was in third place at 8-under, but that was six strokes back of 54-hole leader Chesson Hadley, who was attempting to win his first event since 2014. Nobody had overcome a Sunday deficit of six strokes or more since Bubba Watson at the 2018 Travelers Championship.
The final round figured to be a duel between Hadley and world No. 26 Harris English, who had been struggling since winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions in the first week of January. English was four behind Hadley at the start, but the lead had completely dissolved just three holes in, as English birdied 2 and 3, while Hadley bogeyed both. Both players birdied the 4th, and at the turn, Hadley was back up by one.
Higgo, meanwhile, birdied 3 and 4 to get within two of Hadley, but gave those strokes back with bogeys at 6 and 9.
On the back nine, there were no shortage of challengers to Hadley. The most prominent was world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who was showing encouraging form amidst recent struggles. Johnson got to within one of the lead, but saw his chances evaporate with a triple-bogey 7 on the par 4 16th. He shot a 1-under 70 to finish T10.
Hudson Swafford was also in the mix, and would have made the field for next week’s U.S. Open had he pulled it out, as there is an exemption to any two-time winners on the season (Swafford won the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship last September). World No. 11 Tyrrell Hatton was also in contention, as well as 23-year-old local Clemson product Doc Redman, and three-time Tour winner Jhonattan Vegas.
Perhaps the biggest story unfolding, however, was the play of 46-year-old Bo Van Pelt. Van Pelt missed nearly four full seasons due to injury, and had missed 27 cuts in 38 starts since the beginning of the 2020 season. His sole win on Tour came in 2009 at an opposite-field event.
A bogey from Hadley on 10 re-tied him and English, but Hadley got that stroke back with a birdie on 12. English collapsed down the stretch, with four bogeys and a double over his final eight holes to shoot 3-over 74 and finish a disappointing T14.
One contender after another knocked themselves out of the picture with late gaffes, but Higgo looked unshakable with no back-nine blemishes. He eagled 12, birdied 14 and parred the rest.
With three holes to go Hadley was back out front by two and looked poised to put a finish to his winless drought. He had come into the week ranked 320th, and had missed his last five cuts. He also missed five cuts in a row in a stretch from December to March.
But it was not to be for the 33-year-old Georgia Tech product. Hadley bogeyed 16 and 17 to go into the final hole tied with Higgo, who was suddenly up top of the leaderboard for the first time. Meanwhile, a poor bunker shot by Van Pelt on 18 led to a bogey, which officially ended his chances. With one hole to play, Hadley and Higgo were the only two still standing.
Hadley hit his tee shot on 18 well left, but got a good kick and still had a good lie, needing a par to force a playoff, or a birdie to win. His approach shot, however, was abysmal. It was considerably right of the green, and he was fortunate to even have a shot after it bounced off the grandstand. He was unable to get up-and-down, missing a ten-foot putt for par. With the bogey-bogey-bogey finish, Hadley shot a 4-over 75 and was among the runner-up sextant.
Higgo had been warming up on the range, but did not need to play extra holes. His 3-under 68 was enough to win the Palmetto Championship by one shot. The tournament was a one-year replacement for the RBC Canadian Open, which had been cancelled for the second consecutive year due to COVID.
Higgo’s victory made him the first player since 1988 to win one of his first two career PGA Tour starts. The previous man to pull off the feat, Jim Benepe, failed to win another event in his career. With three victories in his last five starts worldwide, it would be surprising if Higgo does not do much better.
Finishing one stroke back of Higgo’s 11-under winning score was Hadley, Van Pelt, Vegas, Swafford, Redman, and Hatton. Finishing two strokes behind at 9 under was Ryan Armour and David Lipsky.
2021 Palmetto Championship
Top-10 Leaders: Final Round
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 4)
1. Garrick Higgo -11 (-3)
2. Hudson Swafford -10 (-5)
2. Doc Redman -10 (-4)
2. Jhonattan Vegas -10 (-4)
2. Tyrrell Hatton -10 (-3)
2. Bo Van Pelt -10 (-3)
2. Chesson Hadley -10 (+4)
8. Ryan Armour -9 (-7)
8. David Lipsky -9 (-4)
10. Matt Fitzpatrick -8 (-5)
10. Erik van Rooyen -8 (-3)
10. Pat Perez -8 (-2)
10. Dustin Johnson -8 (-1)
How Garrick Higgo Won The Palmetto Championship
With three rounds of 68 and a Friday 69, Garrick Higgo was the only man in the field to shoot four rounds in the 60s. His 19 birdies for the week tied for seventh in the field, and his ten bogeys for the week were not damaging enough to prevent the victory.
Higgo’s best club on Sunday was his putter, which gained him 2.8 strokes on the field. He finished 15th for the week in strokes gained: putting. His best statistic for the week, aside from strokes gained: total, was a fourth place finish in greens in regulation, despite 11 greens hit being his worst of the week.
Garrick Higgo’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 317.2 yards (32nd)
Fairways: 36/56, 64.29% (T86)
Greens: 54/72, 75.0% (4th)
Putts/GIR: 1.685 (13th)
Birdies: 19 (T7)
What the Win Means For Garrick Higgo
The win automatically granted Higgo PGA Tour membership, as he became the first non-member to win a Tour event since Matthew Wolff at the 2019 3M Open. As all winners do, he will be exempt for the rest of this season and all of the next two. His FedExCup points now count as well.
This win definitely gives Higgo’s profile some validity. He was on a tear in Europe, but those wins came in events that contained much weaker fields than the average PGA Tour event. He moved to 39th in the world rankings, and became the youngest South African to win on Tour since Gary Player in the late 50s.
It should also give Higgo considerable confidence and momentum heading into next week’s U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. It will be his second career major start, as he finished T64 at last month’s PGA Championship.
Garrick Higgo’s Fast Start
Turned Pro: March 2019
Pro Tour Starts: 47
2021 Palmetto Championship (a)
2021 Canary Islands Championship (b)
2021 Gran Canaria Lopesan Open (b)
2020 Portugal Open (b)
2020 Tour Championship (c)
2019 Sun City Challenge (c)
2019 Big Easy Challenge (c)
a.) PGA Tour, b.) European Tour, c.) Sunshine Tour
Ryan Armour was one of two players in the field to shoot a 7-under 64, which was also tied for the lowest round in the field for the entire week. Armour had eight birdies on his Sunday, which vaulted him 28 spots up the leaderboard from T36 to T8.
His second top 10 of the season got him to 131st on the FedExCup standings, which helps as he aims for that top 125 playoff spot in August.
Tying that 7-under 64 was Will Gordon, who was bogey-free. He rose a field-high 33 spots up the final leaderboard from T47 to T14.
At 21st in the world rankings, Matt Fitzpatrick was the fourth highest-ranked player in this week’s field. After a disappointing missed cut at The Memorial Tournament a week ago, the Englishman was much more in form in South Carolina, shooting a Sunday 5-under 66, bumping from T27 to T10, his fifth top 10 in 16 starts on the season.
Higgo was not the only South African non-member to shine in the field round. Long-hitting 21-year-old Wilco Nienaber, making his PGA Tour debut, shot a 4-under 67 to move from T27 to T14. He led the field in driving distance.
Hadley and English were the big duds of Sunday, both imploding late. The result was not much better for Dustin Johnson, who shot a mediocre 1-under 70. Trying to rediscover the form that had him playing (by far) the best of anyone in the world in 2020, Johnson held the 36-hole co-lead, which he squandered with a 2-over 73 on Saturday. He got to within one stroke of the lead before that 16th hole disaster.
A T10 did end a streak of seven straight starts outside the top 10, but is still considered disappointing given the weaker field.
Last month, Johnson became the first world No. 1 since 1997 to miss the cut in the season’s first two majors. Another former world No. 1, Luke Donald, bogeyed three of his first four holes and shot a 2-over 73, dropping him 23 spots from T8 to T31. He had been looking on the up, as a T13 at last month’s AT&T Byron Nelson came off the heels of a 12-start stretch with 11 missed cuts and a T54.
Tain Lee went from complete unknown to tournament leader midway through the third round. He collapsed on the back-nine on Saturday, and had just two birdies to two bogeys on Sunday, shooting an even-par 71 that dropped him from T4 to T14. He started the week at No. 1882 in the world rankings.
“Firstly, I’m just happy I don’t have to play a playoff right now. I’m gonna take all the good things… I can’t wait to see my family… hopefully, they can come over. I’m very lucky that my mom is here. I just love my family”.
– Garrick Higgo, Palmetto Champion