Last man in the field Hayden Buckley wins Korn Ferry Tour event in a playoff

Jim Brockman, special to USA Today Network
·3 min read

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. — Perhaps the least likely golfer to win the third annual LECOM Suncoast Classic claimed the crown on Sunday in sudden death at Lakewood National Golf Club.

After finishing 72 holes of play tied at 13-under with Taylor Montgomery of Las Vegas and Dawson Armstrong of Valdosta, Georgia, 24-year-old Hayden Buckley of Chattanooga, Tennessee, went out and birdied the par-4 18th hole to win on the first hole of sudden death.

Buckley seemed light years away from being a final-day contender after not making it through Monday’s qualifier to make it into the field. He made the list of alternates and turned out to be the 144th and final player admitted to the main draw.

Buckley was on the practice putting green at 7 a.m. when he got the call for his 7:17 a.m. tee time on Thursday. He barely made it in time to tee off.

“I know I belong out here,” Buckley said. “I’m just waiting for my chance. It’s just a matter of time. I am playing consistently.”

No one would argue that after this week. It was Buckley’s first-ever Korn Ferry championship, along with his inaugural top ten finish. Buckley takes home $108,000 of the $600,000 purse.

The final round began with Buckley and Billy Kennerly of Seattle sharing the third-round lead at 12-under. Playing in the final twosome together, Buckley took the lead when Kennerly bogeyed the par-4 second hole, one of the toughest at Lakewood National.

Kennerly retook the lead with a birdie on the par-5 sixth hole and looked like he was cruising toward the title with a two-stroke lead when disaster struck on the par-3 17th. Kennerly lost his lead with a double bogey and went on to bogey the final hole to miss the playoff by one stroke. He finished fourth at 12-under.

Defending champion Andrew Novak, who won last year in dramatic style with lengthy birdie putts on the final two holes of the tournament, failed to make the cut this week. He missed the mark by a single stroke, playing the first two rounds at 2-under par.

The Wofford College alum credits his first and only Korn Ferry victory with changing the trajectory of his career, at least for a while. Like so many others on the tour, the four-month hiatus taken due the coronavirus had an impact on his game.

“Winning here was a good confidence boost for about five months,” Novak said. “But the quarantine really kind of messed up the momentum of it.”

As for his performance at this week’s Suncoast Classic, the first tournament since the long break, he said, “I didn’t execute the game plan that I wanted. It was tough making putts.”

Last year’s runner-up by a single stroke, John Chin of Virginia, also missed the cut with the same 2-under total.

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