After another birdie attempt impossibly stayed out of the hole, Michael Putnam walked off Willow Creek Country Club’s No. 12 green, tilting his head toward the sky with his eyes closed.
“Wow,” he said.
As his frustrating Sunday afternoon continued, Putnam repeatedly clapped his hands together and shook his head.
“Gosh,” he said.
Those were his audible words, anyway, summarizing a day when Putnam could have been forgiven for more expressive commentary.
There could be only one explanation for how he went from a third-round 63 to a closing 74, bogeyed three relatively easy par-5s and lost a four-stroke lead, eventually tying for second place in the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship: It was somebody else’s turn.
Pro golf is not designed to have anybody become a multiple winner of any tournament at this level. The idea is to win at Willow Creek, drive away with a trophy and an oversized check for $99,000 and never come back to Utah, thank you very much.
That’s Doug LaBelle II’s good-natured intention after he sneaked ahead Sunday and took a one-stroke victory over Putnam and three others. LaBelle, playing for New Mexico, once won BYU’s Cougar Classic the year after a Stanford golfer named Tiger Woods took the title — and by then, Woods already had claimed a Masters victory. So LaBelle is back on the Tiger trail, almost certainly headed to the PGA Tour again next season, while partly attributing this win to “obviously, some help from Michael Putnam.”
The shock to LaBelle and everybody else was that the third-round leading score was 17-under par and his winning total was 15-under. The final threesome shot a collective 8-over par Sunday.
Putnam handled the defeat graciously, stepping out of the scoring tent and kissing his expectant wife, Kristina, and 20-month-old son, Jantzen, before fielding some questions. But regarding his tie for second, he could say only, “I didn’t deserve anything better.”
Putnam was trying to duplicate his 2010 victory in the Utah Championship, but that’s just not a natural phenomenon. Of the other 19 previous winners of this tournament, dating to its origins in Provo, nine never returned to compete. Of the 10 who came back at some point, only four have ever made another 36-hole cut.
So Putnam’s showing was the best by a former champion, but that hardly was consoling. He blew it, and he knew it.
“It shouldn’t have even been close, really,” he said. “If I could have just had an average day, I would have won the tournament.”
Putnam is back on this tour after a wrist injury shortened his 2011 season on the PGA Tour. He’s trying to earn enough money to get back there next year. His check for $36,300 is helpful — ignoring the part about leaving $62,700 on the course Sunday, when he birdied the first and last holes.
In between, it was not much fun at all. He made five bogeys, while playing the par-5s like somebody in a member-guest tournament. Needing a birdie to catch LaBelle, Putnam butchered No. 17. His drive stayed too straight, ending up in the fairway bunker at the corner of the dogleg hole. He aggressively tried to hit a hybrid club, but the ball caught the lip and trickled down the fairway.
That left him 240 yards for his third shot, which landed in a greenside bunker. With an awkward stance, he played a nice shot to 10 feet, but missed the par putt. Wouldn’t you know, a dog was barking loudly in the neighborhood during his stroke.
That bogey made his 18th-hole birdie meaningless in terms of winning, although Putnam said, “I’ll probably be glad I made that — in a couple of days.”