PALM HARBOR, Fla. — A year ago this week, Lee McCoy left a $292,800 fourth-place check on the table at the Valspar Championship and returned to the University of Georgia for the final months of his collegiate career.
No biggie. There would certainly be other paydays for the former Walker Cup participant and Southeastern Conference champion. You don’t outduel world No. 1 Jordan Spieth as an amateur on a PGA Tour Sunday and worry about whether you can hang with the big boys.
McCoy finally turned pro after finishing sixth in the NCAA Tournament, which is when the can’t miss kid missed every one of his seven remaining sponsors exemptions in the 2016 PGA Tour season.
That was tough enough. It got worse.
After earning his first professional check with a tie for 41st in the Shriners Hospital Open in Las Vegas, McCoy took the red-eye home to Fort Lauderdale to get ready for the second stage of Web.com Tour Q school. On the way from the airport to the golf course, he got into a car accident and broke his right wrist in two places to end his hopes of getting any kind of tour card for 2017.
And that was the good news. His doctors told him had his bones not fractured the way they did, he might have torn every ligament in his hand and never played golf again rather than just been sidelined for two months.
“I keep saying I’m the luckiest unlucky guy ever,” said McCoy , insisting his hand is “absolutely, unequivocally 100 percent.”
For a guy who has been tracking toward a career on the professional tours since before he won medalist for Habersham Central in the 2012 Class AAAA state championship at Jones Creek, it was a massive setback on top of setback.
“The six weeks I was in a cast I had nothing to do but sit home and whine about it,” McCoy said. “It was tough. The toughest part was I couldn’t even get my hand around an Xbox controller the way the cast was. … You just sit there in a cast and do absolutely nothing. It’s tough, I just had to sit home and wait it out.”
McCoy’s wait ends today when he returns to play the Innisbrook Copperhead course he grew up playing and knows like the back of his healed hand. It’s the only start he has guaranteed until Q school starts in the fall. He’ll be Monday qualifying the months away – unless he wins this week or gets another top-10.
“You get one shot at it you really can’t put too much pressure on yourself,” McCoy said. “You’re never going to play well with a top-five-or-die attitude. I’m back on my home course sleeping in the bed I grew up in. I just have to try to enjoy the week and not put any pressure on myself.”
McCoy still has faith in the potential he revealed to the world when he shot 66-69 on the weekend to finish solo fourth just three shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel last year.
In front of massive galleries following Spieth on Sunday, he beat the reigning Masters champion by four shots.
“It’s nice to know you can get in contention and stay there,” McCoy said. “At home you always wonder ‘Am I good enough? Can I do this? Do I really have what it takes?’ It’s nice to know that I can do it and I’d like to think I can do it again.”
McCoy’s good play followed him back to Athens for the final two months of his collegiate career, but he hit an ebb in him game when he finally turned pro and chased his limited allotment of invitations.
“I just kind of had a really bad two-month stretch of golf at the wrong time,” he said. “How many top 50 to 125 players out here can have a bad two-month stretch of golf and nobody would say a word? I just played bad. It happens. It’s tough to accept.”
In retrospect, did McCoy regret not jumping to the pro ranks immediately after his breakthrough at Innisbrook to take advantage of his performance? The answer is not that simple.
“Definitely something I considered,” he admitted. “I’m playing well, why don’t I just go out and capitalize and see what I can do? In hindsight, what if I had turned and done the same thing and not played well? Then I wouldn’t have won an SEC Championship with my team. I’ve got a ring at home and nine happy teammates who also have rings. Maybe they wouldn’t have won if I hadn’t stayed. It’s hard to put a price on that sort of thing.”
Technically, the price tag for McCoy was more than a quarter million dollars. But he hopes good memories might spark another good week and launch his road back in this “brutal, heart-wrenching game.”