In golf, job security for an entire year can sometimes come down to one week, one round or even one shot. On some occasions it can be cruel and heartbreaking. Other times, it can be an exhilarating moment that changes a career.
David Hearn found himself at those crossroads when he stepped on to the 18th tee of Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind., in the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship on Monday. At stake was where he was going to play next season – the PGA Tour or down a level on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Hearn striped his drive and then dialled in his approach on the par-4 hole to gimmee distance, leading to a birdie and locking up a spot on the PGA Tour.
“It feels great,” said the 40-year-old Brantford, Ont., product. “I’m probably one of the few guys who has managed to get my tour card three different ways – through Q-School, through being in the top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour and doing it through these playoffs.”
The big finish was not unprecedented for Hearn. In 2004, at the old PGA Tour Qualifying School, he drained a 60-foot putt on the last hole to advance to the big tour for the first time.
“I was definitely thinking about that as I stood on that [18th] tee deck,” said Hearn of Sunday’s finish. “I’d done it before. I knew how to do it and I ended up hitting a great drive and that made the hole a lot easier and I had a really good number with an iron. I hit a good one obviously. Anything on the green would have been a good one but I was happy to hit it close and make it.”
His play at the Korn Ferry Finals won’t necessarily be career changing for a veteran such as Hearn, but it will make the coming season much more palatable.
Last year, he played with limited status after finishing in the 126-150 category on the FedEx Cup points list. Players in this group get the dregs in tournament options, playing in events that aren’t otherwise full such as those held opposite majors.
He managed to make 18 starts but they weren’t always on courses that suited his game. His schedule was also unpredictable, getting into tournaments at the last moment. On several occasions, he sat and waited as the first or second alternate, eventually being the odd man out.
His new status isn’t perfect but it’s definitely a step up from last year. He’ll play more tournaments and be able to better define his schedule. With that and his game on the rise, he’s excited for the new year.
“I’ve been really working hard on a lot of areas of my game and I drove the ball really, really well last week,” said Hearn, who has been working with instructor Jeff Leishman for the past two years. “My iron play is starting to get a lot better and I did switch to a lighter version of my putter I’ve been using to try and help me. It’s been a couple of years of trying to figure out the non-anchoring way or broomstick method and get it to feel the way is used to feel and I think I might be on to something.”
Hearn’s putting was a strong suit over the three-event Korn Ferry Tour playoffs. Making many from the 10- to 15-foot range can take a lot of pressure off the rest of the game, he said. His putting, of course, has been a work in progress ever since the anchoring ban came into effect in 2016, but he seems to have found a groove that he hopes he can take with him into next season.
He won’t have to wait long. His first start is next week at the Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, where he lost in a playoff in 2015.
“I think there’s no reason for me to believe that that I can’t go out and continue with the form I had four or five years ago where I was competing for some golf tournaments,” said Hearn. “My ultimate goal is to get to the Tour Championship. If I play golf the way I know I can, I can be there at the end of the year.”
For now, Hearn will savour the clutch performance that gave him another year on the PGA Tour. It’s where he feels he belongs and after watching him finish things off last week, it’s hard not to agree.