There are many satisfying moments watching the best play this game of golf, but today was one of those days that brought an easy, broad smile to my face. JJ Killeen, playing in his 101st Nationwide event, won in grand fashion. He was a man on a mission who had set his sights not on the first place prize, but on the trophy. With his Dad on the bag, JJ maneuvered his way around Willow Creek CC in 262 shots (-22) to win comfortably by 4 shots. He started with a course record tying 62 and ended with a bogey free round of 65. When he woke up today, he joined his wife Tasha in wishing his daughter Olivia a happy first birthday. They served a cake, sang happy birthday and doted on their precious little girl. Several hours later, JJ headed for the first tee trying to do something he had never done before....win a Nationwide event. JJ fought anxiety and a slightly quick swing on Saturday's round, hung in there and ended up tied with Jeff Gove for the lead Saturday eve. Jeff was the favorite due to his over 15 years of experience on both the PGA and Nationwide tours, combined with his 3 Nationwide Tour wins. JJ knew what he was up against and knew that there were several players capable of shooting 64 or better on Sunday as is the norm on the Nat Tour. But JJ was more than up to the task. When his long game let him down, his short game more than made up for any errant shots. He was an absolute magician around the greens. I have to say JJ showed one of the best displays of touch, feel and creativity that I've seen inside 100 yards on a Sunday to win in quite awhile. JJ's putter was his best friend. He 1 putt holes 7 through 10 for two key pars and two birdies and ended up with 13 putts on the back nine. The putter kept his momentum going and separated him from everyone else.
The tears of joy that fell from his wife Tasha's eyes down the stretch speak to the trials and tribulations the Killeen family has endured over the last 4 years. The first thing that Tasha remarked about was the fact that JJ's job was secure for another year.....that he was exempt on the Nationwide tour for 2012. I don't think the full impact of his securing a full PGA Tour card for next year had really sunk in yet. JJ will tee it up at the Sony Open next year, playing in a PGA event for the first time come the first of next year. The kid who gravitated to golf after breaking his arm in football at age 16 has come a long way, fighting and working hard for everything that he's earned.
I can't think of a more honest and joyful experience as walking up the 72nd hole with your dad alongside as your caddy surrounded by the love and support of your family. JJ is one of the nicest guys in golf who finished first in grand fashion this week and with this win will spring up the Nationwide Tour money list from #25 to #5, quickly shedding the title of bubble boy (#25). JJ, the way that you rose to the challenge today was a joy to watch. I can't think of a better place for you to raise your first Nationwide trophy than on the 18th green at the base of the Washatch Mountains. Cheers to you and your lovely family!