PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Ted Potter Jr. is a simple man.
Off the golf course, back home in Silver Springs, Fla., he enjoys hunting and spending time with his family, including wife Cheri and their 1-year-old son Corbin Charles. On it, he doesn’t make anything more difficult than it needs to be.
“His simplicity is probably his best asset,” said John Balmer, Potter’s caddie of five years.
In the final group with World No. 1 Dustin Johnson on Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Potter did what he does best. With the likes of Johnson, Jason Day and Phil Mickelson on his heels, the unassuming left-hander calmly carded a closing 3-under 69 to win by three shots at 17 under 270.
“I’m sure everybody knew probably going into this tournament, Dustin’s probably going to win the golf tournament, so I knew I’m the underdog there,” Potter said. “What do I got to lose, really? Just go out there and try to play the best golf I could today and see what happens. Why put more pressure on myself to say I’m playing against the World No. 1? Or just go play golf.”
Potter’s 1st PGA Tour triumph since 2012
The victory was Potter’s second on the PGA Tour and first since the 2012 Greenbrier Classic. It also was his first win since Potter missed nearly two years of competitive golf because of a broken right ankle, the result of slipping on a curb in July 2014. Surgeons inserted 12 screws and two plates into the ankle. Initially, he was supposed to be out four months, but about a year later he had another surgery to remove the hardware in his ankle.
“There’s always thoughts that you might not be able to play golf at a high level again,” Potter said. “… At the time I had no idea if I was ever going to be here – right here, right now – again.”
Yet, here Potter is, a champion again – and this time at iconic Pebble Beach. Balmer saw a glimpse of this moment coming two weeks ago when Potter opened the Farmers Insurance Open in 66. Then on Saturday at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, everything clicked as Potter fired a career-best, 9-under 62, flirting with 59 before closing his round with back-to-back bogeys.
On Sunday, Potter bogeyed his first hole. Three consecutive bogeys, counting those two closing holes Saturday. But that would be his last mistake. He birdied Nos. 2, 4 and 6 before chipping in for birdie at the par-3 seventh.
On the back nine, as Johnson faltered en route to a closing 72 and T-2 finish alongside Day, Mickelson and Chez Reavie, Potter made all pars.
Plenty of victories, elsewhere
If it looked like Potter had done this before, it’s because he has – many times, in fact. Potter, 34, estimates he’s won more than 60 times, mostly at the mini-tour level.
“You cannot replace someone who’s won,” Balmer said. “… It’s so much easier to do it again once you’ve done it. But if you’ve never done it, it’s hard to get to that level.”
Mark Blakefield, who played collegiately at Kentucky and competed against Potter on the Hooters Tour, used to say Potter was “impossible to beat in Ocala,” Potter’s hometown, about an hour north of Orlando. Russell Knox, a PGA Tour winner and fellow Hooters Tour alum, was once asked who was the best player he ever played against. His answer: Potter.
“Never heard of him? You will,” Knox said then.
It just took a while. Potter turned pro right out of high school at just 19 years old, and worked in a cart barn at Lake Diamond Golf and Country Club. Two years later, in 2004, Potter missed all 24 cuts on the Web.com Tour. While he set records on the mini-tours, it took him seven years to win on the Tour’s developmental circuit. He won twice in 2011, then hoisted his first PGA Tour trophy a year later.
“Anybody that misses 24 cuts on the Web Tour and still is walking around and feeling good about themselves, I have a lot of respect for,” said Mike Dunphy, who was part of the Cleveland/Srixon team that first signed Potter to an equipment deal out of that cart barn back in 2002. (Potter still endorses Cleveland/Srixon.)
Potter’s victory certainly changes his goals this season. He began the season just hoping to keep his card after spending last year back on the Web.com Tour. Now he’ll play in the Masters again.
“I’m excited to see some of his best golf now coming up,” Balmer said.
Potter has the game to win again this season. For the week, he finished in the top 25 in every strokes gained category, including seventh in strokes gained: tee-to-green.
“I’ve gotten to play with all the big boys now, but Ted Potter’s a savage, man,” Knox said. “When he gets a sniff, this guy knows how to get it done.”
Said Dunphy: “He’s a freak-of-nature player. He’s that good.”
Dunphy likes to tell a story about when he had dinner with Potter at a pizza joint in Silvis, Ill., after the second round of the 2012 John Deere Classic, the week after Potter’s win at Greenbrier. Potter was in contention at the time, and at one point during dinner his face appeared on a television showing the Golf Channel.
“And nobody in the place recognized him,” Dunphy said.
It’s likely more will recognize Potter after Sunday’s triumph on the Monterey Peninsula. Not that Potter cares much. He’s just here to play golf.
It’s as simple as that. Gwk