Even Adam Long wasn’t certain where he stood after hitting his approach into the Desert Classic’s final hole.
Winning wasn’t at the top of his mind when he teed off in Sunday’s final group with Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin. A top-10 finish, and a spot in next week’s event, would have been nice.
Long was an afterthought in a final group that included a World Golf Hall of Famer and a Canadian playing in front of countrymen who flock to the California desert in the winter.
Long was just a 31-year-old rookie making his sixth PGA TOUR start. And then he was the champion. He won in a way that most players can only dream of: by making a 15-footer for birdie on the last hole.
Long arrived at the final hole tied with Hadwin and Mickelson. After hitting his drive into the right rough, Long hit his 175-yard onto the green. That’s when he asked his caddie to confirm that he shared the lead.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure. I didn’t care. I had nothing to lose,” Long said.
The stage was set for him after Hadwin’s bunker shot stopped inches from the hole and Mickelson barely missed a long birdie try. Mickelon’s miss helped Long see the line for his career-changing putt. His 65th stroke of the day found the bottom of the hole.
Long, who was 20 over par in his previous five PGA TOUR starts, shot 26-under 262 on the Desert Classic’s three-course rotation. He shot 63 in the first and third rounds, then fired a 65 that was Sunday’s second-lowest score on PGA West’s tricky Stadium Course. Long, who started the final round three shots behind Mickelson, chipped in twice on the back nine. He didn’t make a bogey.
“I just kept plugging away and it was kind of the Phil and Adam Hadwin show for most of the way,” Long said. “Everyone was chanting Phil’s name most of the way and there are a lot of Canadians down here. I was just in the background.”
Not when it was time for the trophy ceremony. He was the last player left on the 18th green. Before the win, he was an alternate for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open. Now THE PLAYERS Championship, Sentry Tournament of Champions, Masters and PGA Championship are among the events he can add to his schedule.
Long leapt to 12th in the FedExCup standings. He started the week ranked 205th, ahead of just 13 players. The win was worth 500 points.
He began this week with just four FedExCup points after missing the cut in four of five starts this season. His best finish was T63 at the Safeway Open.
“He hit shot after shot and putted great, had a couple chip-ins and did what you had to do to win,” said Mickelson, who owns as many major titles (5) as TOUR starts Long had made before this week.
Hadwin was still three shots ahead after Long’s chip-in on the 12th hole. Hadwin played the final six holes in 1 over, though, while Long birdied half of the remaining holes. He holed a 5-footer for birdie on 14 before holing another chip on the next hole.
Then he birdied the last hole, an incredible finish for a player who admitted that just receiving the text with his final-round tee time gave him nerves.
Long didn’t look intimidated, though, when he birdied Sunday’s first two holes.
“Birdieing those first two really calmed a bit, like, ‘All right, I got this, I can compete, I can play, I belong,” Long said.
He’d spent nine years as a professional waiting for this moment. His only TOUR start before this season came at the 2011 U.S. Open. That was the same year that he won his only previous professional title, the Woodcreek Classic on the now-defunct Hooters Tour.
He estimates that the winner’s check was $25,000. He played his first Web.com Tour season the following year but finished 127th on the money list. He didn’t get back on that tour until 2015. He never doubted that he could make it, though.
“I wasn’t doing great, but I never really doubted it,” he said. ”I still wanted to play and I still loved it and I still wanted to see how good I could get.”
He became a PGA TOUR winner on Sunday. And it was worth the wait.