Holds off seasoned PGA Tour veterans
Sitting on a five-shot lead with 18 holes to play at the 3M Open, Ardmore native and Athens resident Lee Hodges said he wasn’t going to stress out overnight and vowed to remain aggressive despite the sizeable advantage.
Hodges did both – he said he slept “like a baby” Saturday night and then went flag-hunting Sunday, strolling pretty much stress free to a seven-shot win and the first PGA Tour victory of his short career Sunday in Blaine, Minnesota over three players
With the victory, Hodges, who shot a tournament record 24-under 260 at TPC Twin Cities, qualified for the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs, moving from No. 74 to No. 33. He also earns invitations to all the 2024 major tournaments, including the Masters, and gets a berth into the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.
Oh yeah, he also will cash a check for $1.404 million for his wire-to-wire victory that started with a Thursday 63. He closed with a 67 Sunday to beat J.T. Poston, Martin Laird and Kevin Streelman.
Poston had cut a once six-shot deficit to three shots going to the final hole, but hit his tee shot into a penalty area. From a downhill, sidehill lie, his shot over water hit rocks short of the green and caromed into the drink. He eventually made a triple bogey. Hodges birdied the final hole for the final margin.
Lee Hodges: They’re partying in Ardmore
He said he is proud of his small-town roots.
“Man, I’m sure there is a party going on there right now,” Hodges said of his hometown which straddles the Alabama-Tennessee state line. “I’m super proud to be from there and represent those people. I’m really just grateful to be from Alabama.
“I loved growing up there, going to school there,” he continued. “My mom and dad still live there.”
His father is a banker and is the public address announcer for Ardmore High School’s football and basketball games.
“He really loves Ardmore,” Hodges said.
At the Canebrake Club, Hodges’ home course in Athens which is a short drive down I-65 from Ardmore, members gathered for a viewing party Sunday afternoon. Director of Golf Micky Wolfe tweeted out a video clip showing Hodges’ fans going crazy when he made an eagle on the 12th hole.
Hodges, who played collegiately at UAB and finished at the University of Alabama, won in front of his Crimson Tide coach Jay Seawell, who flew in for the final round.
“I didn’t know anybody was flying in except for my agent, Jeff Stacy,” Hodges said. “Everybody else was a surprise.”
A Crimson Tide milkshake for winning
Seawell, in University of Alabama tradition when the Crimson Tide posted a victory, got Hodges a milkshake for his win.
“That’s super special – something I’ll always remember,” Hodges said.
Something else Hodges will remember forever is the two 3-wood shots he hit on No. 6 and No. 12 to set up eagles.
“Anytime you hit two 3-woods inside 10 feet you’re being pretty aggressive,” he said. “Those were two of the greatest shots I ever hit. It just kind of seems like one of those things that happens when you win. I had an absolute — the exact same number both times and in the exact same wind. I just had to hold a little 3-wood. And it was 257 both times. I just had to get it up in the air and hold it and I did it pretty well.”
He played the three par 5s Sunday in 5-under-par.
Hodges said he never let winning cross his mind until after he hit his approach shot on the final hole.
“Other than that, I was just completely focused on what I was doing out there, which is probably why I played some nice golf,” he said. “I probably should try and do that more.”
His high school coach: ‘I always knew’
John South, Hodges’ high school golf coach, said his phone was blowing up during the final round.
“I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from in 8 or 10 years today – a lot of coaches we played against when he was in high school,” he said. “I knew this day would come; I just didn’t know it would come this soon. To see it come true, I’m just kind of speechless. I’m so proud for him and to know the kind of person he is.”
“It’s just a dream week,” said Hodges, who won in his 65th PGA Tour start. It also continued a patter of winning at the highest level – he won the state Class 4A title while at Ardmore High School and while at Alabama. He also won the WinCo Foods Portland Open on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020.
Now, he’s won on the PGA Tour.
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image of Lee Hodges absorbing that he’s about to win on the PGA Tour: screen grab via CBS Sports