PGA TOUR Report, 24 June 2019: Pretty much, the stars all seemed aligned against Chez Reavie in Sunday’s final round of the Travelers Championship. To wit:
He was starting the fourth round with a six-shot lead, but TPC River Highlands is a place where four times in the previous 14 years, the winner had started Sunday six or seven behind.
Reavie was head-to-head with Keegan Bradley, whose four PGA TOUR wins had all been of the come-from-behind fashion, furious finishes almost part of his persona.
There had been eight birdies in his final 11 holes Saturday, and you have to figure that somewhere, Golf Gods gathered to remind one another that they have quotas for this sort of stuff.
Oh, and Reavie is the definition of “unheralded,” a man whose only PGA TOUR win came in his rookie season 11 years ago.
So, as Bradley whittled the deficit to five at the turn, then to four, then three, then two and, finally, to one at the par-4 15th hole, it was worth a big exhale and a reminder what people who know Reavie say about the 37-year-old.
“He’s tough as nails,” said Paul Casey, who was a senior at Arizona State when Reavie arrived as a freshman in 2000. “He doesn’t have the physical attributes that seem to be what you need to play nowadays (Reavie is 5-9, about 160 pounds), but he’s always nipping at your heels, like a Jack Russell (Terrier).”
Pausing to smile and catch his breath, Casey, who had just shot 5-under 65 to nail down a share of fifth, said it was a joy to speak about Reavie.
As a person, Casey meant, but on this day, he was as a front-runner, too, and because he was a mere 11 years and 258 tournaments since his first TOUR win. “I was fortunate enough to stay patient,” said Reavie, who had to be, because he kept hitting fairways and greens and missing birdie chances. That was a recipe for danger, Reavie reasoned, “because I knew Keegan would come out firing.”
So, when the birdie tries misfired – from long distance at the 10th, then from 28, 21, 12, 12, 10, and nine feet on each of the next six holes – Reavie stood on the 17th tee, his lead a fragile one.
To some, it was time to drag out that list of those who had come from at least six shots back after 54 holes to win the Travelers – Brad Faxon back in 2005, Bubba Watson twice, Marc Leishman, too – and start to engrave Bradley’s name to the rollcall. Those folks clearly don’t know what Justin York knows – that it was the perfect time for Reavie to step up.
“He’s a bulldog,” said York, who has caddied for Reavie for nearly six years. “He’s as mentally tough as anyone out here.”
Indeed, it was Bradley who blinked, not Reavie. From 160 yards out in a fairway bunker, Bradley bladed a 9-iron long, made double-bogey, and when, finally, Reavie’s fairway-and-green routine led to a birdie, the game was over. With 69 for 17-under 263, Reavie finished four clear of Bradley (67) and Zack Sucher (67).
What came with the $1,296,000 prize and 500 FedExCup points were accolades that might be more valuable – if you cherish the character of a person, that is.
“He is,” said longtime PGA TOUR caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, “off the charts as a person, an awesome human being.”
For all the times Mackay crossed paths with Reavie for more than 10 years on the PGA TOUR, it’s a small corner of the golf universe where he truly got to appreciate this quiet young man who was born in Kansas, grew up in Arizona, and honed his golf game at Dobson Ranch GC in Mesa. It’s Whisper Rock in Scottsdale, which attracts competitive golfers as members the way the Louvre houses priceless artifacts.
“If you golf competitively there, you become mentally tough,” said York, who swears that his boss’s improvement as a player is two-fold – the work he’s done with Mark Blackburn and the many days and months and years he has spent at Whisper Rock.
“The Rock,” as it is called, is where guys you’ve never heard of, amateurs for the most part, don’t want shots and don’t need ‘em. “The members can beat you up – in a nice, friendly way,” said Casey, who is one of a long list of PGA TOUR guys who play there. Phil Mickelson, Martin Kaymer, Kevin Streelman, Aaron Baddeley, Geoff Ogilvy, Gary McCord, Peter Kostis … they’re just a sampling of the golf talent that shows up where an unwritten rule greets everyone.
“You check the ego at the door,” said Casey.
Ah, no wonder Reavie loves it. After all, he’s as unpretentious as anyone you’ll meet.
For sure, “there were some long years in the middle” of his career, as a wrist injury derailed him, and four times between 2009-2015 he failed to make the FedExCup playoffs. But even Bradley cited Reavie’s doggedness. “That’s the way he plays; he’s tough,” said the co-runner-up. “I wasn’t surprised.”
Back in the days before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, word got around “The Rock” that Reavie was in great form, having shot 61, 61, 64. “Obviously,” said Mackay, “he was playing very, very well.”
When Reavie took that action to Pebble Beach and finished tied for third, his best performance in a major, no one back at Whisper Rock was surprised.
And when Reavie fought off Bradley and closed out a 72-hole tournament with just three bogeys against 20 birdies, Casey, representing Whisper Rock GC and probably a long line of friends who have met Reavie along the way, was there to offer a warm embrace.
“He’s a great friend, someone you can trust,” said Casey, “and he’s getting better with age.”