Hilton Head Island, SC – Matt Hendrix of Greenville, SC entered the final round of the eGolf Tour’s Palmetto Hall Championship presented by Westin Hilton Head Island with the hopes of earning his first tour title, prior to venturing to South America to open up the 2013 Web.com Tour season. Through 10 holes in Sunday’s final round, the former Clemson star had an eight-shot lead and a stranglehold on the event’s $18,000 first-place prize. The rest was a mere formality, as Hendrix polished off a closing 1-under 71 to post 15-under 273 and lock up his first professional win.
The Palmetto Hall Championship was the first of 24 scheduled events on the 2013 eGolf Tour schedule, and was contested this week on both the Robert Cupp and Arthur Hills courses at Palmetto Hall Plantation on Hilton Head Island, SC.
Entering Sunday’s final round, Hendrix was in possession of a two-shot cushion over local favorite Chris Epperson of Hilton Head Island, SC, following a 68-67-67—202 (14-under) start to his week. With Epperson at 12-under par, and five shots clear of third, the setting was put in place early on for a two-man showdown; however, right out of the gate, it became a one-horse race.
Early-morning frost set the start of the final round back 30 minutes, and when play finally began at 8:00 AM, players were greeted with a wind chill of 26 degrees and gusts of over 25 mph.
On the first tee, Epperson blocked his opening tee shot well right and under a thick bush right of the cart path on the par-4 first. A failed first swipe at the ball left him exactly where he started, hitting his third – which he managed to punch out, roughly 30 yards onto the cart path. A fourth shot fell short of the green, and when he managed to get up and down, the hopeful hometown hero was left with an opening double-bogey that dropped him down to 10-under par.
“I knew that Chris made double, but by no means did I think the tournament was headed in my favor,” said Hendrix, 32. “Anything can happen on this course, so my main focus was to play smart and try to shoot even par or better.”
Hendrix three-putted the first hole, but bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 second to return to even for the day. A bogey at the tough par-4 third took him back to 1-over for his round, but he was able to right the ship with five consecutive pars, headed to the par-4 ninth at 13-under on the week.
The righting of Hendrix’s proverbial ship was timed with the struggles of Epperson, who followed up his double-bogey at the first with bogeys on Nos. 5, 7 and 8 to plummet to 5-over on the day and 7-under for the tournament.
The artist formerly known as a two-horse race had morphed into a one-horse race, which in turn became a mere formality when Hendrix birdied Nos. 9 and 10 to ascend to 15-under par – at the time a staggering eight shots clear of the field.
“I had a great number into No. 9 and was able to hit it close,” Hendrix said. “On 10, I laid up and hit a good third shot to that pin and was able to get another birdie. It wasn’t until I walked to the 11th tee and saw that I had an eight-shot lead that I was able to relax a little bit.”
Pars on Nos. 11 through 14 gave way to a birdie at the reachable par-5 14th, which took the former Clemson University star to 16-under par overall.
A failed up-and-down attempt at the watery par-3 16th dropped the Aiken, SC native back to 15-under, which is where he finished after pars at 17 and 18 gave him a final-round 71, and a 15-under 283 tally for the week.
“I really wanted to birdie 18, still kind of in that aggressive mode,” said Hendrix after his round. “I wanted to finish in style. But the par was just fine with me.”
The win was good for $18,000, but more importantly, got the ever-present monkey off of Hendrix’s back. Since turning professional in 2004 following one of the better amateur careers at storied Clemson, Hendrix had yet to win a significant event in the pro ranks. Nearly 120 starts combined between the PGA and Web.com Tours more than justified his potential, but the thought of holding up the oversized check was a mere fantasy until Sunday afternoon at Palmetto Hall.
“Honestly, I didn’t know if it would ever happen,” he said after his round. “I had put myself in position to win a number of times, I just never did. But, never in my wildest dreams could I have envisioned an eight-shot lead with eight holes to play – that’s the kind of stuff Tiger does.”
Hendrix was a key member of the Tigers’ 2003 NCAA Championship squad, was selected to the 2003 U.S. Walker Cup team, picked up a win at the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur in 2003, and added two more college titles to his wall prior to entering the pro ranks.
He played the eGolf Tour full-time in 2009 and 2010, and began 2011 with the intent to play a full season. That April, Hendrix Monday qualified for the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGA, and notched a T3 finish thanks to rounds of 70-67-68-70—275. That week’s winner was then-amateur Russell Henley, which gave Hendrix T2 money (amateurs cannot receive prize money), which then allowed for him to earn temporary member status for the remainder of the year.
Since then, Hendrix has competed full time on the Web.com Tour, notching three top-10 finishes and posting a 72nd-place finish on the tour’s season-ending money list in 2012. That finish, 12 spots outside of fully exempt status, gave him conditional status for 2013, and upcoming starts at both the Colombia Championship and Chile Classic.
“Those tournaments can determine the rest of my year,” Hendrix said. “I need to play well so that I can move up in status. I’m hoping I can take all the positive from this week down to Colombia and really stay focused to get my year off on the right foot.”