By making a 4-foot birdie putt on the third hole of a playoff Sunday to beat Troy Kelly in the Greenbrier Classic, Potter earned a spot in the Masters Tournament, something he listed as career goal.
Simply winning, though, had been the top priority for a player who first joined the former Nationwide Tour in 2004 and didn’t have much success until last year.
“When you’re missing cuts every week, you get down on yourself,” Potter said. “I mean, it’s hard to pick yourself back up. But the plus side for me is I was still young. I just knew I had plenty of time and just be patient and it will come back around again.”
Potter finished second on the Nationwide money list last year to advance to the PGA Tour.
He tied for 13th in his first event of the year but had missed five consecutive cuts entering the week.
The left-hander became the sixth first-time winner on the Tour this season. He earned $1,098,000 and jumped from 173rd to 51st in the FedEx Cup standings.
He also gets a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Potter and Kelly can pack their bags for the British Open, which starts July 19 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
Ranked 218th in the world, Potter overcame a four-stroke deficit with four holes to play, finishing with his second consecutive 6-under-par 64 to match Kelly at 16-under. Kelly shot 66.
North Augusta resident and former USC Aiken star Scott Brown withdrew from Sunday’s final round to be with his wife, Allison, for the birth of their first child, Elizabeth Marie.
Sunday marked the third consecutive year of close finishes on the Old White TPC course. Scott Stallings beat Bob Estes and Bill Haas on the first hole of a playoff last year, and Stuart Appleby shot 59 to beat Jeff Overton by a stroke in 2010.
Webb Simpson lost a one-stroke lead on the back nine at the tournament for the second straight year. The U.S. Open champion made three straight bogeys, shot 73 and tied for seventh at 11 under.
During the fourth round, Potter made long putts for a birdie at No. 15 and an eagle at No. 17, and his 5-footer for birdie at No. 18 tied Kelly, who could have avoided the playoff but missed birdie putts on the final two holes.
Both made par on the first two playoff holes, with Potter missing a 5-footer at No. 17 that would have won it on the second extra hole. Moments before, Kelly made a 22-footer for par after finding trouble from the greenside bunker.
Playing the par-3 18th for the third time on the day, Kelly’s tee shot was short of a steep ridge in the middle of the green, while Potter sent his 9-iron onto the top of the ridge and it trickled close to the pin.
Kelly missed his 45-foot birdie putt, then watched Potter close out the win as thunderstorms moved in.
Despite the disappointment, Kelly earned his best career finish. He previous one was a tie for 37th.
“I had a lot of fun,” Kelly said. “And looking forward to kind of getting in that position some more.”
Kelly underwent hip-replacement surgery in September 2010 after being diagnosed with arthritis. He resumed playing golf five months later and was 11th in Nationwide winnings last year.
Charlie Wi and rookie Charlie Beljan tied for third at 14 under. Wi shot 65, and Beljan had 67.
Daniel Summerhays finished fifth at 13 under after 64. Martin Flores (67) was another stroke back.
Simpson, the third-round leader, had gone 50 consecutive holes without a bogey but made three of them in a row starting at the par-5 12th.
“I felt really confident and then just got on a bad run there,” Simpson said. “I’m probably going to learn something from it. Have to learn the hard way.”
Joining him at 11 under were Robert Castro (63), Kevin Na (65), Sean O’Hair (66) and Ken Duke (70). Duke was within a shot of the lead on the 14th hole before fading with a pair of double bogeys.
Simpson can now focus on family – his wife, Dowd, is due to give birth to the couple’s second child within three weeks. That means skipping the British Open.