Last month the Champions Tour wrapped up its final event of the season with an unusual finish to the Schwab Cup playoffs. Kevin Sutherland, with help from his caddy, Billy Lewis, won our version of the “Tour Championship” for his first Champions Tour victory, and also won first prize in the lucrative Schwab Cup payoff package. Was it unusual that Sutherland won his first Champions event after winning only one tournament on the PGA Tour? Many would say yes. But the players and caddies who have been around him for years? Based on his past performances, we’d say it was simply long overdue.
What was unusual is that three-time defending Schwab Cup champion Bernhard Langer, who won seven times this year (including three majors and more than $3.6 million), wasn’t the Schwab Cup victor. Why? Because the PGA Tour policy board approved the current system, so that’s the way it is … at least for now. It was designed to add excitement to the playoffs and eliminate the foregone conclusion of a winner prior to the final event. But, this column is not about policy change or revising the format. This is about Kevin Sutherland.
In the public eye, Kevin has mainly flown under the radar for his career, despite the fact that he played on the PGA Tour for more than 20 years. Partly because he’s only won one event on Tour, even though all the caddies consider him an ATM machine, but also because he doesn’t dress like John Daly, he doesn’t say or do anything controversial, he just goes about his business in an unassuming way. Paul Goydos plays virtually every practice round with Kevin, and we call him the “Anonymous Pro.” So anonymous in fact, that on the eve of the Schwab Cup finals, when mentioning the great accomplishments of the players over the past year, PGA officials overlooked him despite being one of the five golfers who could win the Schwab Cup with a victory.
As far as physical attributes, Kevin’s bread and butter is his ball striking ability. This past year on the Champions Tour, he was 1st in greens in regulation (78 percent), and 10th in total driving. Pretty good, but throw in 11th in sand saves, 10th in putting, and 2nd in the all-around category, and you’ve got a guy that played some awesome golf against some really good players.
Prior to the final tournament, in 77 events on the Champions Tour, he has amassed a stunning 37 Top 10s, including eight second-place finishes and five third-place finishes. Tied for the lead going into the final round at the Dick’s Sporting Goods event this year in New York, he shot a bogey-free 65, only to get nipped on the last hole by Scott McCarron, who shot 64. In the same event three years prior, Kevin shot the lowest round in Champions Tour history, with a 59 in the second round. All of this without a win? Are you kidding me?
All that changed at Phoenix Country Club this past November, when Kevin decided he’d had enough, and took the title of the most lucrative tournament on the Champions Tour. Let me start by saying that Paul Goydos had the lead in the final leg of the Schwab Cup for five consecutive rounds, dating back to last year’s wire-to-wire victory at Desert Mountain. Known for being a closer, I had to think the players in contention were a little mindful of Paul. But uncharacteristically, he was a little off on Sunday, which eventually set the stage for Kevin.
He started the week with an admittedly average round of 69, but in typical Sutherland fashion, fired a 63 on Saturday to get back in the mix. On Sunday, Kevin got things going with a birdie at the first, an eagle at the seventh and another birdie at the ninth. After some solid pars on the back nine, he took the lead for good with a birdie at the sixteenth, and then cruised to a 66 and his first Champions Tour victory!
At the awards ceremony, it was nice to see players and caddies congratulating a guy that had finally won his first tournament after years of knocking on the door. You could see how pleased he was and perhaps a little relieved as well. Plus, he won the Schwab Cup and a boatload of cash! The only thing he did lose though was some of his anonymity.
Although in a few years, if Bernhard Langer wins a few more Schwab Cup titles people will ask, “Who was that guy that won the Schwab Cup in 2017?” Their likely reply? “Just some anonymous pro.”
Chris Mazziotti is a veteran Tour caddy of more than 20 years. He currently loops for Paul Goydos. He has worked all four majors on the PGA Tour, and has caddied for players such as Brian Henninger, David Gossett, Brandt Jobe and others.. Mazziotti currently resides in Milwaukee, Wis. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.