Last year’s Barracuda Championship winner discusses 2016 title, upcoming tournament
One of the best feel-good moments of the entire PGA season in 2016 took place right here in Northern Nevada, in a tournament that annually fights for national attention with the Bridgestone Invitational – one of the biggest non-Major events of the year.
Still looking for his first tournament title in his 386th field, barely hanging onto his PGA Tour card, then 42-year-old, Australian-born Greg Chalmers teed off on the last day of June at the Barracuda Championship at Montreux Golf and Country Club in south Reno.
Three days later, needing a par on the par-five 18th and final hole of the tournament, Chalmers sunk an eight-foot eagle putt to win his first ever tournament, collect a check of $576,000, and earn a two-year exemption on the tour.
Chalmers made the media rounds last week before the 19th annual tournament starts next week. He joined the Nathan Shoup Show on ESPN Radio 94.5 FM on Friday to talk about last year’s first, and defending his title.
We have to talk about last year, and how special that was for you (in) your 386th career PGA Tour start, I’m sure you’ve heard that number a ton.
Just a little bit, yeah.
You finally get over the hump. What part in the weekend, if you can look back and kind of remember, did you realize ‘okay, I have a shot to do something here.’ Was there a time you thought about that, or did you block that out?
I tried my best to block that out. I wasn’t aware of the numbers going in. I didn’t know it was at 386, but I knew it was a long time. I also know that there are some guys who have never actually won. So, I’m fortunate and I was very thrilled that it happened.
But, as the weekend went on. You just keep trying to hit good shots then all of a sudden, ‘wow, we’re really in it now’ with five or six holes to go. I’ve been back and watched it and I’m very fortunate I think that Gary Woodland missed some putts coming down the stretch. But yeah, there was a lot about it that has been so cool, and so exciting.
It wasn’t a spot you’ve got to be in a lot, and yet, you handled it like you’ve been there forever. You’re going into that 72nd hole, the par-five 18th on Sunday, and you get an eagle. All you needed was a par. What was kind of your mindset? Were you nervous standing over the ball?
Yeah, very. But I had some serious discussions with myself that involved some swear words about ‘harden up princess’ a little bit. And make sure I was committed to what I was trying to do and just crush the ball. And I did that.
If I would have messed it up from the middle of the fairway with a seven iron in from 210 yards, I would have been an idiot. That would’ve been foolish. I wouldn’t have deserved to win to be honest.
To need a par, and make eagle, was just the icing on the cake.
You have an eight-footer left for eagle, you see it pour in, do you remember what that feeling was like or what you were thinking then?
Well, I was only trying to two putt, and the greens were quite fast, and I hit it and had enough time to think, ‘what are you doing? You’ve hit it too hard.’ It was going a lot firmer than I like. It shouldn’t have barely made the hole and it went in like it was going to go four feet by.
It’s just pure elation, and a lot of relief to be honest. There’s a lot of build up in trying to not make a mistake down the stretch, but also doing enough to win. So it was a lot of relief that it was done, it was over.
Some buddies, another caddie and another player had stayed, Rhein Gibson and Shane Joel, and threw some champagne at me. I would’ve preferred if it was bourbon to be honest. Apart from that, everything was cream. It was great.
Well, they can plan that out (next week). They’ll have the bourbon waiting on the 72nd hole on Sunday.
That’d be nice if I got to deal with that. That’d be nice.
Your dad was there. It’s pretty cool that he was there and got to experience that with you. What was the celebration with dad like and what was that moment like when you get to see him for the first time as a champ?
My dad … is an old Englishman. His idea of fun is to get on a plane, the redeye back to Dallas, at 2 a.m. when it’s really quiet and sing songs. He wanted to sing. And then my caddie at the time, his nickname is Chew, he got a Rolex watch, so dad decided that he would wake him up every 15 minutes to ask him what time it was. Just things like that.
We went home, it was Fourth of July the next day and we had a party at the golf club. And so all of our friends got together … and maybe had a little too much to drink.
My buddy texted me this picture of my wife, she couldn’t watch. She was sitting on the curb for the last nine holes. There were a couple little things going on. It was good.
With that win, it was a result of circumstance, you qualify for the British Open, but really more importantly, you got a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. How big was that for you?
It was huge, to be honest. It was going to be my last event on the PGA Tour, and I was struggling on the Web.com Tour leading up to the Barracuda last year. I hadn’t played as well as a I like. On the PGA Tour, people don’t understand sometimes, you don’t have job security unless you win.
To get that done, and be able to be in this situation this year, I just went on a two-week vacation with my family. And here I am, I might not make enough points to keep my card, but I’m OK because, regardless, I get to come back next year and do it all again. That is like a little piece of gold and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
Now, as a champ coming back, you’re feeling a lot better about things with the two-year exemption. So, the tournament is (next week), how excited are you to tee it off again?
I’m looking forward to it. I just changed coaches about a month ago. I don’t want to say changed coaches, I’m just trying a different approach from a different guy and I’m just starting to play a little better. The media stuff, I’ve never done it before so it’s pretty cool. I don’t come into radio stations very often. So, it’s going to be cool. I’m looking forward to it.
I haven’t defended before. Typically, the only person who cares about defending is the defending champion every week … I’d like to put up a strong defense and it’d be great to have another opportunity again.
You’ve made a ton of Tour starts, do you think it will feel different, or that it will have a unique feeling as the defending champ?
I’ll probably put more pressure on myself than I would in another event. It sucks to play poorly regardless, but it probably sucks a little more if you did it defending a title. I’m really motivated.
I played a little better (two weeks ago). I showed some good signs. I’m looking forward to some practice here and getting after it here (next week) in Reno.
The Barracuda is unique in that it uses the modified stableford scoring format. Obviously, it worked out really well for you last year. Does it change the way you play? … What do you think of the format?
It’s beautiful. There’s no question it rewards aggression. Because if you make six birdies, six bogies and six pars, you still walk out with six points versus a guy who makes 18-straight pars and walks out with zero. So, I like it. Because my birdie average is usually pretty high, but I do make mistakes.
I really enjoy that concept. I was pleased last year. I went back and I looked back, I would have won stroke play as well. That made me feel a little bit better. It wasn’t a fluke.
I think it’s a great format. We used to do that in Denver. Again, at altitude, I don’t know what it is about that, that makes it seem plausible. But, it’s something the players are used to and we enjoy it.
I was going to mention that next. Another thing that makes this tournament unique is that it is at altitude, almost 5,000 feet. But it’s almost 5,000 feet for everyone, so it affects everyone. How much does it affect your club selection or the way you attack the course?
It really changes it from the hours of the day, as it gets hot late in the afternoon. As I said, I think I had 210 yards going into 18 and I hit a seven iron. Well, normally I’d hit that about 170 yards. So, with wind, there’s a lot math going on there when you’re calculating ups and downs. You’re also on the side of a mountain.
That’s why you pay a caddie, right?
Well, sometimes not enough. You need a little abacus on the side there to see if you can figure the up and down and the altitude adjustment.
But, when you get it right, it’s pretty cool. Sometimes, you get unlucky and freaky things happen and ball spins too much and stays in the air a little longer and goes over the back.
(Two weeks ago) you were at the John Deere Classic and played pretty well … You were 11-under for the tournament. That’s a solid number. How do you feel about your game and where you are right now?
(That) was the first week after trying some different things in my golf swing in a month. It was the first week it started to feel pretty good. I walked away three out of the four days with, I thought, two or three more shots each day. Saturday was the only day I didn’t play that well. But, Thursday, Friday, Sunday I should’ve taken it deeper than what I did. I had a five-footer to go six-under on Sunday on the 12th hole, 13th hole, 14th hole, something like that, and I missed it and ended up shooting four-under.
There’s things like that you have to take advantage of and get to seven- or eight-under. So, I spoke to wife afterwards and said I’m looking forward to getting home, having a few days off, practicing a little bit, then getting after it the next two weeks. I’m hopeful for good things.