In the end, the tournament came down to the crowd favorite with 43 PGA Tour wins and five major championships — the guy who had finished in the top six in the California desert for the last three years — or a 31-year-old tour rookie who had missed the cut in four of his five tournaments and had previously spent as much time on the moon as he had on the leaderboard.
Logic and golf being the odd pairing that they are, the rookie prevailed.
Adam Long, playing in the final group with Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson and Canadian Adam Hadwin, drained a 14-foot putt on the 18th hole on the Stadium Course at PGA West on Sunday to break a three-way tie and win the Desert Classic. Long shot a seven-under 65 to finish at 26 under par in the 60th edition of this tournament.
The player with the least tour experience was the one who played with the most consistency. He played bogey free, unlike either of his partners, and had eight threes on a scorecard that was without a blemish and included two chip-ins for birdies.
“I’m in disbelief right now,” he said afterward. “I don’t really know what happened.”
Here’s what happened: Long began the round with two birdies, calmly played steady if unspectacular golf the rest of the front side, hovered quietly behind the leaders, caught them late in the round, then made the putt that will change his life.
“I just kept plugging away and finally got up there to 18 with a chance to win the tournament,” Long said. “And I tried not to think too much about it. … I was just trying to make a putt. But when that thing went in, I don’t know, I never felt like that in my life.”
Hadwin (67) and Mickelson (69) tied for second at 25 under. Hadwin, who shot 59 in this tournament two years ago, has finished sixth, second, third and second the last four years. Taylor Gooch, who had made the cut in only 14 of his 32 PGA Tour events, shot a 64, the lowest round of the day, to finish alone in fourth at 24 under.
Dominic Bozzelli (66) was fifth at 22 under and defending champion Jon Rahm shot a frustrating 67 to finish sixth. Rahm had plenty of chances to catch the leaders, but he missed six birdie putts of 13 feet or less.
Long has had a sometimes difficult journey through the golf world since graduating from Duke in 2010. His previous professional victory? At Woodcreek in South Carolina on the Hooters Tour in 2011.
He never gave up on the idea of a life in professional golf, though there were periods that tested his mettle. Shortly after turning pro in 2011, he was struggling on the eGolf mini tour on the East Coast.
“I mean, I was lost,” he said. “I had no clue what I was doing with anything, nothing was working. I was just traveling in my car week to week, I was lost.”
But shortly after missing his “fourth or fifth straight cut,” he qualified for the U.S Open, playing “some of the best golf of my life. … So I mean it went from like the worst month of my playing career to the best week of my playing career … until now.”
The win was worth $1.152 million, which is about $1.14 million more than he had made on tour. He doesn’t expect to change his lifestyle much.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said, “but I’m keeping my phone off for a while so nobody is asking for a loan.
“I’m just happy to go home with my wife Emily and enjoy it and just keep living like we always live.”
Playing in front of a large gallery that was mostly filled with Mickelson fans but included a good number of Canadians who have left the windblown snow for the desert sunshine, Long seemed like the odd man out.
“It was definitely a little bit of the Phil and Adam Hadwin show, no doubt,” he said. “But I kind of hung in their shadows.”
He started with two birdies to pick up one stroke on Hadwin and two on Mickelson, who had what said was a “terrible putting day.”
“I was nervous on that first tee shot,” Long said.
“But to birdie the first two is more than I could have hoped for. … It really calmed me a little bit like, all right, like I got this, like I can compete, I can play, I belong, and let’s just keep it going.”
He did exactly that, with four birdies in the last seven holes, but none bigger than the one on 18. Mickelson had already missed his birdie putt, Hadwin had hit into the bunker and was putting for par. So a made putt meant a victory.
“This changes everything,” Long said. “I’m looking forward to the Players and the majors and all through the summer. …