ATHENS – Georgia sports are effectively over for the summer. But if you’re looking for some Bulldogs to pull for through the dog days of summer, try following the PGA Tour.
UGA has nine alums currently playing for pay full time out on golf’s professional circuit right now – among the most in the game – and you can watch six of them in action this weekend in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. And if all goes to plan, that number will increase by one over the summer.
Lee McCoy, who just last week played his final collegiate event as a Georgia Bulldog, made his professional golf debut on Thursday in the FedEx. He got off to a rather inconspicuous start, with an opening round of 71, or 1-over-par. But those in and around the game are expecting big things from the skinny redhead from Clarkesville.
Here’s how you can be sure of that. I caught up with McCoy by phone yesterday in Memphis as he awaited his first pro start and asked him how his sponsorship deals ended up shaking out.
Get this: He’s wearing Under Armour apparel, Under Armour shoes, playing Callaway clubs (with a big “Power G” stitched on the bag) and is being backed by a group called DV Trading, a hedgefund company out of San Diego. They’re all paying him.
Not coincidentally, McCoy recently closed on his first house in Jupiter, Fla. That area, known as an epicenter for professional golfers, will serve as McCoy’s home base over the coming months.
“My life has changed pretty dramatically,” McCoy said. “I have a lot of great stuff going for me. … Under Armour has been killing it in golf; I’ve always liked their stuff. And I’ve been playing Callaway clubs for a long time under my own free will before contracts came in the mix. So I’m excited to be where I am in all that stuff.
“Obviously, I’m living a little better than I was in college. But it’d still be nice to go out and get a paycheck from the PGA Tour.”
McCoy also snatched up a veteran caddie to carry his bag, which is another tell-tale sign of high expectations. Steve “Pepsi” Hale for years had been on the bag of Keegan Bradley, with whom he won three PGA Tour titles — including the PGA Championship — until they recently parted ways.
“That was very, very lucky,” McCoy told me. “That’s a home run for a guy in my situation to get somebody like that on the bag. I’ve never had a caddie of that caliber or even close. In practice rounds you can tell he’s the type of guy who knows what you need right before you need it.”
Here’s why all that’s such a good thing: McCoy took a chance that all this would still be here for him when he elected to return to Georgia for his senior season last year.
You may recall that McCoy could have won $292,000 last year when he finished fourth in the Valspar Championship while out-dueling Jordan Spieth in the final round. He played as an amateur in several other pro events and very easily could he decided to go ahead and play for dough.
But he wanted to come back to Georgia and try to the lead the Bulldogs to a national championship. They got pretty close, too, getting knocked out of the NCAA Championships during the stroke-play rounds. But McCoy distinguished himself then as well.
He finished sixth overall in the individual competition to earn All-America honors for the second consecutive year. But unbeknownst to a lot of people, McCoy played that event sick as a dog. On the eve of the tournament he lay in his bed in his hotel room with the flu and a fever over 100.
Again, it would’ve been perfectly understandable if he’d just scratched and gone on to the rich future that was then only a week away. Especially after the trying year that it was. Over the last 12 months, McCoy’s mother won a bout with cancer and his father suffered a stroke just weeks ago. Through it all, McCoy chose to stay in his college colors and play for his school.
Fortunately for McCoy, he played well his final season at UGA. In fact, he left as the Bulldogs’ record holder for career (70.87) and single-season (70.00) stroke average. There was no guarantee it was going to go that way.
And there are no guarantees now as McCoy ventures out on the big-boy tour. He still has to earn his PGA Tour card. He’s playing on a sponsor’s exemption this week in Memphis and also will be for upcoming appearances in the Barracuda Championship and John Deere Classic. Surely he’ll lock down a few more before the summer’s over. But, again, nothing’s guaranteed.
McCoy has already had to deal with disappointment. Earlier this week he shot 71-75 in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Germantown, Tenn. He’s going to miss Open after playing in it as an amateur last year.
Nevertheless, McCoy arrived at TPC Southwind cool and confident, as always. And he’s there with his own little entourage. It includes his mother Cheryl, his father, Terry, his girlfriend Hannah Whitlock her parents Jeff and Mary Whitlock of Habersham County. Oh, and a swing coach and caddie, of course.
“I can’t say that I’m going to go out and win, but my game is in great shape right now,” McCoy said. “I do feel like winning is a real possibility. But my only goal is just to get into contention by Sunday. I’ll just try to go out and post a good solid round.”
If his good, solid career at UGA is any indication, it’s only a matter of time for this kid.