Luke List had two long hours to ponder what could soon be a reality: a chance to make the playoffs for his first PGA Tour title.
Fortunately, he also had some welcome distractions.
After signing for a fourth-round 66 at the Farmers Insurance Open that raised him to 15 under for the week, List had time to kill before the fourth-round outcome at Torrey Pines was decided. He joined his family – wife Chloe; daughter Ryann, 3; and son Harrison, 7 months – in the players’ dining room. Chloe was feeding Harrison; Luke went to get a cookie for Ryann. They were hanging out and talking and laughing. It could have been a low-key Tuesday afternoon at their home in Augusta, Georgia.
Of course, it was anything but. As the final groups reached the 15th and 16th holes, List’s playoff hopes were still alive and well, so he returned outside to rap putts on the practice green and hit balls on the north course, in a dream setting of the Pacific Ocean. “I found something in my swing, I felt really good,” he said.
The temperature had dropped. Dusk was approaching. “Luckily I was warming up again as the light went down, so my eyes adjusted,” List said. He was still cringing when Will Zalatoris came onto the 18th green. After a shrewd approach, Zalatoris had 8 feet to go for a birdie. Do it and Zalatoris would earn his first PGA Tour victory; miss out and he would face List in overtime. Zalatoris’ putt looked good until it didn’t, wobbling left at the last moment.
At that time, the sun was melting on the horizon. You might say it was silly to start a playoff in the rapidly fading light – there was time for a hole at most and the putts were already getting hard to read – but both players seemed eager to decide of a winner on Saturday. So off they went, back to the 18th tee.
Both List and Zalatoris hit soaring fades that landed in the same right fairway bunker, their balls settling inches apart. Both players returned well-placed recovery shots into the fairway. Both players ended up with short approaches on the pond that faces the sprawling, sloping 18th green. Pitching wedge in hand, List strikes first. He had 135, only he didn’t play it 135.
List knows a thing or two about playing golf in Southern California; he and Chloe lived for several years at Seal Beach, about 90 miles off the coast of Torrey Pines, which means he’s played his share of SoCal courses. And in this moment of high pressure and high stakes, that local knowledge proved indispensable.
“When the sun goes down it cools down about 10 degrees and it’s almost 10 meters,” List said. So instead of playing a 135 yard shot, List and his caddy Jeff Willett felt the adjusted distance was more like 148. with a bit of spin and I think that’s kind of what you need to do in this approach,” List said.
The ball came to rest inches, no more than a foot, from the hole, but because of the dim light, List had no idea how bright the shot he had hit.
“I couldn’t say,” he said. “I thought it was like a bit behind the hole. Then I got closer, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ … For it to be six inches or whatever the number was unbelievable. Obviously it’s the dream to have a kick that you don’t have to putt, but I was willing to have a putt to win anyway.
Of course, it wasn’t that putt that won him his first Tour crown, it was the swing that preceded it.
“To hit that corner kick [was] special,” said the new champion. “I will remember this forever.”