Ryan Armour isn’t the No.1-ranked player in the world, nor does he have 16 US PGA Tour titles to his name. So when the 41-year-old journeyman pro saw that Dustin Johnson, the man who does carry those accolades, couldn’t hold on to a six-stroke lead at the WGC-HSBC Champions earlier in the day, he knew he couldn’t take anything for granted as he carried a five-shot edge over the field entering the final round of the tour’s concurrently held Sanderson Farms Championship.
Eighteen nerve-wracking – but career-affirming – holes later, Armour closed with a four-under 68 at the Country Club of Jackson in Mississippi to claim his first career US Tour triumph in his 105th start. And finally he could breath easier.
“I’m tearing up. I’m not going to lie,” said Armour after posting a 19-under 269 to win by the same five-stroke margin. “There were some lean times. I thought about quitting, but my wife wouldn’t let me. Thank God. I love her. It goes back to have faith in what you do. You know if you believe in something, go do it, work hard at it and have fun doing it.”
After a solid college career at Ohio State University, Armour turned pro in 1999. He finally earned a US Tour card in 2007, but ever since the Ohio native has bounced back and forth between the big tour and secondary Web. com Tour, a victory at the 2016 Web. com Tour’s Panama Claro Championship his lone triumph.
Playing on the US PGA Tour in 2016-’17 season, he competed in 20 events but finished 159th on the FedEx Cup points list. Forced to play in the Web. com Tour Finals Series to try to earn back his card, he secured it with a runner-up finish at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship (on his old college course at Ohio State).
But something clicked early in the week for Armour in Mississippi. He grabbed a share of the lead in the first round with a 66 and never looked back. Celebrating his son Patrick’s 9th birthday, back home with the rest of the family in Flordia, via Facetime on Saturday morning, Armour went out and shot a five-under 67 to take the commanding lead.
Come Sunday, the trick for Armour was not to get too anxious with such a big lead. He managed to keep calm with birdies on three of his first seven holes while his closest pursuer, Chesson Hadley, played the same stretch in just one-under. It wasn’t until a wayward drive on the ninth hole that resulted in a bogey that Armour said the nerves started to creep in. But he quelled with a birdie on the 11th and 14th holes to maintain a nice cushion on the field.
"I'm tearing up…I'm not gonna lie." pic.twitter.com/RKryynL7wm
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 29, 2017
Meanwhile, Hadley tried to charge with a birdie-eagle showing on the 13th and 14th holes, but it was too little, too late as he ended the day with a 68 and remained five back in second place.
Mississippi’s Jonathan Randolph, who grew up 18 kilometres from the course, charged with a Sunday 67 to move from ninth to third place, finishing seven behind Armour. Smylie Kaufman also made a nice Sunday move, shooting a 68 to jump from 16th to T-4.
Aaron Baddeley was the pick of the Australians, losing a shot to par with a closing 73 to share 30th place at four-under.
The tournament had another heartwarming story in the form of Scott Strohmeyer, a former teammate of Justin Thomas at the University of Alabama. Stroymeyer went through pre-qualifying the previous Thursday, then finished in the top-four during the Monday qualifier just to earn a spot in his first US PGA Tour event. He continued to play well, finishing T-4 at 10-under to earn an automatic spot into the field at this week’s Shriners Hospital.
Whether Strohmeyer will see the new Sanderson Farms champ with him in Vegas remains unclear. Armour had planned to skip the tournament and instead travel to New York to watch his wife run in the New York City Marathon next weekend.
“We’ll see,” Armour said.