Former Bulldog McCoy takes a career mulligan at Valspar

That’s Lee McCoy in the foreground, as a Georgia Bulldog playing in last year’s Valspar Championship. Some guy named Spieth is in the background. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – A year ago Lee McCoy was a Georgia Bulldog on the spring break of a lifetime. Why, this was even better than doing Jell-O shots on the beach with the Hawaiian Tropic bikini team.

Paired with the then No. 1 golfer in the world, McCoy beat that Jordan Spieth guy by four strokes in the final round of the Valspar Championship and finished fourth overall. It was the highest finish by an amateur in a PGA Tour event in 18 years. Still the amateur, he left $292,000 on the table.

Well, he is back at Innisbrook this week for another Valspar and back home (he grew up just outside the gates), hitting the reset button on a young professional career that stalled even before take-off. Anything he wins now, though, he gets to keep.

The short-attention-span review on where McCoy has been since making his big splash:

Returned to Georgia where, as low medalist, helped the Bulldogs to an SEC title. Turned pro and missed eight straight PGA and European Tour cuts before finishing 41st at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in November. Got in a car wreck, broke his right wrist. Spent two months recovering (“I’m not very wide, I wore a hole about that wide in my couch,” he said, holding his hands barely two feet apart). Is now trying to rediscover the magic of a year ago.

“I have to try to remind myself that I’m only eight months out of college or so. It’s not like I’ve been out here seven or eight years grinding it out. I haven’t been out here even a year. Just be patient and play good golf. It will come around,” McCoy said.

McCoy was given a sponsor’s exemption this week because of his performance last year, thus earning a break from the usual grind of Monday qualifiers and lower tier Web.com events that face a start-up golfer such as himself.

A strong finish here again would do wonders for his future.

But he can’t let himself think that way on the first tee Thursday. “You get one shot at it. You really can’t put much pressure on yourself. You’re never going to play well with a top-five-or-die attitude,” he said.

“I just have to try to enjoy the week. It’s not worth it to put any pressure on myself. All I did last year was come out and have fun, have a great time and have everything work out.”

The wrist, he said, is, “absolutely, unequivocally 100 percent.”

His mind is on the mend, having processed the slow start after turning pro as “a really bad two-month stretch of golf at the wrong time.”

“I just played bad for a couple months. I didn’t do anything dramatically different. I didn’t really try to change anything. I just didn’t hit it well,” he said.

Mightn’t he have been better off, someone asked, if he had seized the momentum from last year’s Valspar, and turned pro immediately afterward rather than return to Athens?

And for a moment the 23-year-old who has cast himself fully into this self-absorbed profession sounds like a college guy again, playing the part of darn good ‘Dawg.

Golfers can do that, too, you know.

“It’s definitely something I considered – I’m playing well now why don’t I just go capitalize and see what I can do?” he said.

“But in hindsight what if I had turned and done the same thing and not played well then I wouldn’t have won a SEC championship with my team. I’ve got a ring at home. And I’ve got nine happy teammates who also have rings that they may not have won if I wouldn’t have stayed. It’s hard to put a price on that sort of thing.”

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