PALM HARBOR, FLA. – As they sat in the scorer’s trailer Sunday signing off on their day’s work at the Valspar Championship, Jordan Spieth offered one last piece of advice to the Georgia Bulldogs amateur who had just handed him his lunch.
Don’t look, the world’s No. 1 told Lee McCoy. Don’t even peek at the winnings’ list placed so seductively on the table before him.
“I looked,” McCoy said.
“I shouldn’t have looked.”
With his surprising fourth-place finish at the Valspar, McCoy stood to earn $292,800. Only problem was, he’s a college player, an amateur. And such filthy lucre is not allowed in his world. It was like he had just won a lottery ticket and had to watch as it was shredded, then burned. All that money just got shuffled downward to some other lucky pros.
Give the Bulldogs senior credit, his sense of humor was as strong as his golf game.
“It was a lot of money,” he said.
“I think I’ve got like $350 in my bank account right now, that’s mostly gas money,” McCoy said. “It hurt. But there’s so much going great for me right now I’m just trying to take it all in and I’m just really grateful to be standing here.”
The lost riches aside, this was the best week in McCoy’s golfing life. Rather than dread a possible pairing with the imposing Spieth, McCoy campaigned for it. His father, Terry, told of Lee constantly checking the scoring late afternoon Saturday with only one goal in mind – for the right players to back up so he could get paired with Spieth.
And when it worked out, “He was pumped up out of his mind,” Terry said.
Here was the tale of the tape for that pairing, a mismatch on paper:
Jordan Spieth: Masters, U.S. Open, FedEx Cup champion, seven PGA Tour wins, $22 million in career winnings, No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Lee McCoy: First team All-American, set Georgia record for single-season scoring (70.08) and tied school record for tournament victories (four), made cut at John Deer Classic, career earnings, zero.
Yet, as they stood on the first tee Sunday, McCoy could have spotted Spieth three strokes and still finished ahead of him at the end. The amateur birdied his first two holes, Spieth put up a bogey on No. 2 and the rout was on. One 22 year old the golfing world barely knows shot a 69. The other 22 year old that made all the headlines last year shot a 2-over 73.
“Pinch me, man. It was really special,” McCoy said. “I know Jordan didn’t have his best stuff today but the course was playing so, so tough. I can’t really take any pride in beating him. I think he’s got me by a hair now, career wise (wry smile here).”
Spieth’s did not hesitate to offer his endorsement. “It was really impressive suff,” he said. “You would have thought he was out here for years, working the ball both ways. The way he was talking, you couldn’t sense any nerves. Not on his putting stroke, either. He’s certainly really ready to be out here.”
McCoy had one advantage over Spieth, and everyone else in the field, for that matter: A familiarity with all things Copperhead. Before moving to Clarkesville, Ga., his senior year of high school, McCoy lived near the Innisbrook Resort and estimated he played the course a thousand times.
What was a bear of a track for most of these players was McCoy’s playground. This weekend he recalled the youthful indiscretion of leaving his bike outside the property while sneaking into the tournament as a kid. Back when he was too young to drive a cart, his father would drop him off on weekends so that he could wait to hitch a ride with some group that needed a fourth.
Playing here on a sponsor’s exemption, he certainly played like he felt at home. On Saturday, his 66 tied for the lowest round of the week. Then on Sunday, he won his unofficial duel with Spieth and finished only three shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
His reward? No money and an eight-hour drive back to Athens where he intended to tee off for Georgia in the 36-hole Southern Intercollegiate Monday morning.
He will one day soon – whenever the last collegiate putt drops – attempt to play for over-sized checks. But, as much as it may hurt to give the money back now, that will just have to wait another few months.
“I came back to school for a reason,” he said. “That’s our home tournament and we won it last year. I’m playing good golf and I want to try to help our team and defend our title.”