05/08/2016

The stars were out in Charlotte on Sunday. Fan favorite Rickie Fowler held the lead after three rounds at -9. As he waited out the morning, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy hopped on the birdie train. When it was all over both had cool 66’s in their back pockets.

Then there was Justin Rose, who went off in the penultimate group. He was dialed in on pins all day long, reaching as low as 10-under.

But in the end, none of the above claimed the Wells Fargo Championship. Instead, two unheralded players seeking to jump-start their 2016 seasons walked off 18 in a tie for the lead at Quail Hollow. James Hahn, with a one-shot advantage, bogeyed the last to go into the clubhouse at -9. Roberto Castro saved his par to send the tournament to a playoff.

It was Hahn who proved to have the steelier nerves. He made par after Castro pulled his tee shot into the hazard to collect his second career PGA Tour victory.

On a weekend that included 5000-1 shot Leicester City celebrating the Barclays Premier League title and 42-year-old Bartolo Colon smacking his first career home run, perhaps Hahn’s win added a fitting cap to the improbable two days in sports. It’s not that Hahn doesn’t have the talent. In fact, he possesses one of the sweetest swings on tour despite, as we were told over and over on the CBS broadcast, modeling it off what others do rather than what he does. Hahn is known to watch YouTube clips of his favorite golfers to try and mimic their patterns.

It’s a bizarre thing to do for a professional golfer, but one that speaks to Hahn’s wavering confidence. He once sold shoes for a living, you know. And even that one win that came at Riviera last season did little to boost the middling pro’s self belief.

Coming into the Wells Fargo Championship, Hahn missed eight consecutive cuts. That’s an amazing statistic in any context. (Reminder: golf is hard). But the failure speaks to Hahn’s reserve. He kept teeing it up rather take an extended break to work on his game.

We saw that again on 18. Hahn didn’t know he had a one-shot lead thanks to Castro’s bogey on the par-three 17th. Either way, he was on the green in two and wanted to put -10 on the leaderboard to keep the pressure on.

Hahn’s first putt came up woefully short. He missed the par putt to leave the door open for Castro. Or Rose for that matter if the Englishman could somehow card a three on a hole that had surrendered just one birdie all day. Castro grinded out a four to tie Hahn.

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Just as it looked like the Georgia Tech grad would carry the momentum back to the 18th tee, he wavered. Castro’s drive landed left of the fairway in the creek. His second shot, after a drop, landed in a more unusual place: a spectator’s shoe. Somehow Castro turned that calamity into a five to put pressure on Hahn, who once again stared down a six-footer for par.

“Coming into the Wells Fargo Championship,

Hahn missed eight consecutive cuts.”

This time, Hahn sank it. His big smile and emotion following the victory hid the determination that defined his weekend. Hahn missed eight cuts in a row. He showed up the ninth time and won. He missed a par putt on 18 to choke away a lead. He returned and made the same putt to win in a playoff.

Hahn is now a two-time PGA Tour winner. That looks a little more impressive than “Shoe Salesman” on his resume.