It was every last-second shot in basketball, every bottom-of-the-ninth swing in baseball, every Hail Mary pass for the win in football you take in your dreams as a kid.
“Everybody dreams about having that put on the 18th hole to win a tournament,” Keith Mitchell said. “I had that putt [Sunday].”
Fifteen feet. Slightly uphill with a break. Sink it and Mitchell wins The Honda Classic. Miss it and he remains the nobody he’d been right to this moment.
Mitchell, in fact, showed a text he’d received to his caddy, Pete Persolja, in the moments before teeing off in Sunday’s final round. It came from a friend in Tennessee. It was a quote from a TV commentator saying the lesser names near the lead wouldn’t be there at the finish.
“Basically, it said, ‘Nobody cares about you. Good luck,’ ” Persolja said.
This putt, then, when it disappeared in the hole, was for all the nobodies. The ones trying to be somebody. The theme Mitchell embraced even was underlined by the three-way tie he stood in before that putt with two of the biggest names in the golf.
One was Brooks Koepka, a three-time majors champion, a five-time PGA Tour winner, the game’s player of the year in 2018 and a local favorite growing up in Lake Worth and attending Cardinal Newman High School.
The other player in the tie was Rickie Fowler. He’s won five tour events, has come within a few shots of winning multiple majors and has been a popular commodity on the tour since named rookie of the year in 2012.
Finally, there was Mitchell. Mr. Nobody. He’d never won anything and was in his second year on the tour. He was ranked 162nd. He was so far down the pecking order you couldn’t peck far enough to find him before he made that putt.
How many majors he even played in?
“Zero,” he said
When did he last win any event?
“I won a mini-Tour event in 2016,” he said.
He lost a playoff on the Latin American Tour, too. You get the idea. You also saw that for a tournament with just three of the top 21 players, The Honda Classic delivered good drama. Mitchell looked at the leaderboard at the 15th hole and six players were tied for the lead.
None of them collapsed, either. Mitchell birdied that 15th to go to 8 under. Koepka joined him by with birdies on two of the final three holes. Fowler made a 45-footer and six-footer on the final two holes to tie them.
Vijay Singh, at 56, threatened right to the final holes to become the oldest player to win a tournament. He finished sixth.
“The last thing I thought I was going to do was go 2 under the last four holes to win,” Mitchell said. “Everybody is cheering for Rickie because he’s such a great ambassador of the game, and everybody was cheering for Brooks. I’m standing in the fairway on 18th, and I see Rickie make another put to go [8 under].
“So I’m thinking, well, if I make par here, I got a playoff with two of the best players in the world and potentially Hall of Famers. That’s a big thought for a guy that’s on his second year of the tour that’s never won.”
Thankfully, he said, he put his approach shot just where he wanted. The putt was an easy read. The challenge was finding the right speed through his nerves. When it went down, Mitchell became golf’s version of winning a lottery ticket. He didn’t just make $1.2 million with the victory. He earned stability.
“The first thing I thought about was having a job for the next two-and-a-half years on the PGA Tour,” he said, meaning the exemption that came with the win. “And the second thing was when I saw my mom, gave her a hug. Then everything else kind of started sinking in.”
This is what sports does best, taking a nobody and making them somebody over the course of a day. Or a putt, as this was. His group of friends popped Budweisers afterwards. Mitchell sat in an interview room saying, “It was awesome. I wish I could come up with a better word than that, but it’s how I feel.”