With Valspar on the line, pro hits lefty shot you have to see
Adam Schenk walked up to his ball and put his hands on his knees in disbelief.
Tied for the lead on the 72nd hole of the Valspar Championship, Schenk had snap-hooked his tee shot left of the fairway bunkers and into the trees.
It finished up against the right side of one of those trees in the pine straw.
“The absolutely worst spot it could have ended up,” decreed NBC on-course reporter John Wood. “I don’t even know how he chips it out without going way backwards, to be honest with you.
“No stance. No swing.”
Schenk’s options were limited and ranged from bad to worse:
— Chip out backward toward a bunker and more rough.
— Chop down with an extremely steep swing sideways, again toward a bunker, with the goal of moving it just a few feet.
— Take an unplayable and still be left with a difficult third, partially blocked by trees.
— Play the ball forward, left-handed, and get as close to the fairway as he can.
He took a moment to gather himself. After all, he needed par to get into a playoff for his first career PGA Tour win. The 31-year-old had led the tournament after each of the first three rounds and only trailed for one hole during the final round.
Not only the stakes, but his wife, eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child, got up at 2 a.m. to fly to Tampa from their home in Indiana to be there for what could be her husband’s first win.
He had to figure out how to get his ball back in play.
Schenk and caddie David Cooke started moving the gallery around to give himself space to work. Then he flipped a club upside down and started taking practice swings.
“I don’t know if he’s got any lefty game,” Analyst Paul Azinger said. “A lot of players are good left-handed swingers of the golf club.”
Added Wood: “If he’s got lefty game and he thinks he can make good contact, he only has to hit it, 60, 70 yards to get it to the fairway.
Then he paused.
“That being said,” Wood finished as he and Azinger chuckled at how easy they were making it sound, this incredibly difficult thing Schenk was contemplating.
Schenk and Cooke started crunching the numbers.
“I’m thinking we take two club-lengths unplayable,” Cooke said.
“Yea, but if I dribble it here,” Schenk said, motioning to the spot just right of his ball where Cooke suggested he drop before pointing back toward the fairway, “what’s the difference between here and here?”
“I just don’t want to leave it behind that tree up there—”
“It’s a risk,” Schenk said so matter-of-factly, cutting his bagman off.
“If you think you can get it into the fairway—” Cooke said before Schenk cut him off again.
“I don’t know.”
“Then we’re going into the wind with a wedge to a back pin on the shelf.”
Cooke was thinking about the possibility that even if Schenk got his ball back in play, leaving it too close to the green could make it too easy to spin his approach off the back tier, where the flag was tucked. Tommy Fleetwood had just done it in the group ahead. Schenk’s playing partner Jordan Spieth would do it in a few moments.
Schenk then walked forward, asking Cooke to point out where he thought they should try to play to before they got out of range of the NBC microphones.
Wood reported the plan appeared to be just trying to advance the ball 15 to 20 yards in front of him. Schenk admitted he probably couldn’t reach the fairway.
“This gives me a chance,” Schenk said as he returned to his ball and tried out a few left-handed practice swings.
Cooke suggested one more time about taking an unplayable, pointing out there may be a shot at the green.
“Honestly, I’d rather take a risk and just try and do it.”
There’s one more piece of context we should discuss before going further here: Schenk was finishing up his 10th event in as many weeks on Tour. He hasn’t taken a week off since the second week of January.
He plans to take time off once his wife gives birth in less than two months. But until then, he’s trying to earn as many points as possible to secure his place in the Playoffs. A win would make it almost a certainty.
“You’re going to just try and get it up there in that rough?” Cooke asked.
“I’m going to try to.”
He went back to the bag for a different club.
This is where having a good caddie pays on the PGA Tour. Cooke could have kept trying to talk Schenk into taking the unplayable, but he realized he wasn’t changing his man’s mind. Now it was time to support the choice, even if he disagreed.
Two more semi-awkward practice swings and he was ready to go. Nobody saw what happened next coming.
Although the hosel was flipped on top of the club head, Schenk was set up on the same line as the gallery just a few feet left of him. A shot any bit left — like one with a name sounding a lot like his own — could be disastrous not only for his chances but for the crowd.
He flushed it.
Adam Schenk takes a left-handed approach and finds the right rough. pic.twitter.com/aAJyFM3Y3N— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 19, 2023
In fact, he hit it so well it went through the fairway.
“Tons of power!” Wood exclaimed. “He actually got a bad break and went through the fairway.”
“He’s got a little hand-eye skill going on here,” Azinger said.
After nearly four minutes, he was back in the tournament.
Unfortuntately, he couldn’t capitalize.
Even out of the rough, Schenk’s third didn’t reach the crest of the hill before the pin and rolled back to the fringe, 42 feet away.
He made sure he gave his par putt a chance, just like his approach moments before, but it hit the right lip of the cup with too much speed.
“I haven’t had a ton of top 10s on the PGA Tour,” Schenk said afterward. “So, I mean, I want to close one out someday, but how many chances am I going to have, so I’m not leaving this putt short. I’m getting it to the hole. I did and it was on line. It would have been amazing if it went in, but luckily, it hit the pin or else I would have been another 4, 5 feet behind.”
He gave his putt a chance. And he went for broke on the second shot. He was oh-so-close on both.