‘It just flat out sucks’: Tour rookie chokes up after losing card by single shot

Justin Lower couldn't hide his emotions at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday moments after missing a putt to lose his card.

PGA Tour

Justin Lower stood in the interview area at Sedgefield Country Club, in Greensboro, N.C., visibly shaken and choking back tears.

Twenty minutes prior, he’d faced a putt on the 72nd hole that could change his life. Make it, and the PGA Tour rookie would earn another season of playing privileges. Miss it, and relegation was in store.

Lower’s tears made it obvious how the scene on the 18th green had played out.

“It sucks to come up this short,” he said. “I don’t know, there’s positives, but right now it just flat out sucks.”

Unfortunately for Lower, eleventh-hour heartbreak is nothing new.

Four years ago, he stood over another putt that would have changed his life.

It was the 2018 Web.com Tour Championship, and the journeyman found himself squarely on the bubble. At the conclusion of the event, 25 golfers would earn promotions to the Tour. As Lower played Atlantic Beach (Fla.) Country Club’s par-5 18th hole, he was in position No. 25.

The scenario was simple: make birdie or better and Lower would lock up the final Tour card. Anything less and it was back to the development tours.

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After three solid shots, only 8 feet separated Lower from his fulfillment of a lifelong dream. He sized up the putt and went through his routine. He took a few deep breaths, took one final look at the hole and drew back his putter blade. As Lower’s ball trundled toward the hole, it looked good. But at the last moment, the putt veered to the left, catching the lip and spinning out behind the hole.

His Tour dreams would have to wait.

In the four years since his heartbreak at Atlantic Beach, Lower exhibited tremendous resilience, continuing to grind on the Korn Ferry Tour and eventually earning his PGA Tour card last summer. The dream may have been deferred, but at last he’d exercised his demons and made it to The Show.

After his first full season on Tour, Lower was in a familiar position — on the bubble. Entering the Wyndham Championship, the rookie was 128th in the FedEx Cup standings, with the top 125 retaining their cards for next season. To keep his playing privileges for 2023, Lower needed a solid week in Greensboro.

He produced just that, making the cut at Sedgefield and firing a Saturday 66 to keep himself in the mix. With a solid Sunday, Lower would be rewarded with another season on Tour.

He wasn’t quite as sharp in the final round as he’d been Saturday, but thanks to three back-nine birdies, the 33-year-old’s quest to keep his card was still alive. And as he stepped to the 18th tee, projections indicated all he needed was a par on the closer to sneak into the top 125.

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Once again, Lower executed just like he needed to. He drove his ball in play and then hit his approach onto the green. His lag putt from more than 60 feet raced some six feet past the cup, and a nervy comebacker suddenly stood between the rookie and another season on Tour.

Deja vu? Big time. Again, Lower sized up the putt and went through his routine. Again, he took a few breaths, took one final look at the hole and drew back his putter blade. Again, Lower’s ball missed its mark.

As he came off the course and signed his scorecard, Lower was made aware that he’d come up short of retaining his card. He struggled to muster the words to sum up his emotions.

“I’d tell you if I could get it out,” he said. “I don’t really know what I’m thinking.”

If it’s any consolation to Lower, his season isn’t all for naught. He will still have the opportunity to regain his Tour card via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and even if he doesn’t, he still retains conditional status for 2023, meaning this won’t be his last Tour start.

Not that that made Lower’s Sunday any easier to stomach.

“It just is tough,” he said.

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Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.