10/18/2015

What would it take for you to notice golf in October? A dramatic finish? A big name making a late charge? A scorned player taking revenge on a course and a ball rather than the captain who didn’t pick him? A first-time winner? A prodigy?

In some aspect, all of the above took place Sunday at the Frys.com Open, the first tournament of the 2015-16 calendar. Emiliano Grillo, a 23-year-old Argentine making his debut as a full-time tour player, bested Kevin Na in a playoff to take his first career victory.

A long, winding road led to a finish that entertained a modest audience who eschewed football for an evening. For Grillo, the journey started two weeks ago at the Web.com Tour Championship. He drained a 25-footer on the 18th hole to win and build momentum heading into his big tour career.

On Saturday, there were issues with his fairway assault of Rory McIlroy with his tee shot on the 17th. It became news worthy in the golf industry.

But the incident with the world’s number 3 ranked player didn’t seem to affect Grillo, a PGA Tour rookie.

On Sunday, he watched as more experienced players faltered around him. Jason Bohn birdied 15 to take a lead only to bogey the next hole to give it right back. Justin Thomas’s 69 put him into position to win. He, however, was undone by a series of uncharacteristic mistakes. Thomas, Bohn and Tyron Van Aswegen, a South African, finished tied for second at -14.

Grillo and Na emerged from the cluster to head into extra holes. The latter was looking for some semblance of redemption. Despite a crowd of worthy candidates, there was some thought that US captain Jay Haas might have selected Na to compete in the Presidents Cup in Na’s birth nation of South Korea. He made 23 cuts in 27 events in 2015 including seven top-10’s. Alas, Haas picked the ever-popular Phil Mickelson and his son Bill Haas at the expense of Na.

The 32-year-old responded well in Napa following his spectator role in the Americans’ victory. Na fired a two-under 70 to sneak into the playoff. With his experience, one would have favored him over the rookie South American. And yet, it was Na who made a crucial mistake. Playing the par-5 18th for the second time on Sunday, Na chose to hit a driver off the deck to try to reach the green in two. He hooked it badly on his way to bogey.

In the aftermath, Na insisted he’d hit driver again. He won’t have that chance and besides, he still would have had to make birdie.

Grillo sent his drive into a fairway bunker as darkness fell in California. But he rallied to give himself a nine-footer for the win. Grillo sank the putt to earn a berth in the Masters.

“You say Masters, I can’t believe it,” he said following the victory. Grillo also called it the best moment of his golfing life.

It was a special result even if most people’s eye balls were elsewhere. Golf can’t compete with playoff baseball or football in the fall.

But Grillo’s win built on the theme of the 2015 season. There’s a youth movement in the sport. The Argentine is the latest to add his name to the mix.