Next up: The Sentry at Kapalua
Aloha, Lee Hodges.
The rising PGA Tour star from tiny Ardmore, Alabama, has the enviable task of jump-starting his 2024 season at this week’s The Sentry, an invitation-only tournament for last season’s Tour winners in Kapalua, Hawaii.
That’s a long way from the Canebrake Golf Club in Athens where Hodges lives and would be practicing in the current 40-degree weather.
While driving to a recent wedding in south Alabama, Hodges took time to talk to Alabama Golf News about his break-through season in 2023 and what the future holds.
The obvious highlight from 2023 was Hodges’s first win on Tour at the 3M Open where he seemingly lapped the field on the way to a seven-shot win. It was a springboard to the FedEx playoffs and has him positioned to take another step forward in the year ahead.
Since he joined the Tour for the wraparound 2022-23 season, Hodges has made 20 of 24 cuts and earned $3.7 million.
Leading up to the 3M Open in late July, Hodges arrived having missed 3 of 4 cuts – a misleading stat, he said. Two weeks prior he had finished 12th in the Scottish Open before missing the cut at The Open Championship.
“I just knew I’d been doing the right things,” Hodges said of that magical week in Minnesota. “I’d been playing some good golf the week before I played the British Open. I didn’t play very well, but it was my first British Open. It’s a completely different style of golf than I’ve ever played before. So, I honestly didn’t think too much about that. I just came home and kept doing the things I knew that I was doing that were right.”
Lee Hodges now ranks 60th on OWGR list
Hodges said everything clicked at the 3M Open.
“That week, Monday through Sunday, I played great,” he said. “Even in the practice rounds I was playing awesome. It wasn’t like I showed up on Thursday and started playing well. I managed myself well, the expectations, I knew I was playing well, so I just kept my foot on the gas the whole week and just kept making birdies.”
The birdiefest resulted in a winning score of 24-under 260, a $1.4 million check and a seven-shot win. Hodges also shot up 41 spots in the FedEx Cup points standings, and it secured his first-ever trip to The Masters in April.
Now, with an official World Golf Ranking of 60, Hodges likely will be eligible for the Tour’s new elevated, limited-field events.
He’s also got something most golfers only dream of – a win on Tour.
“It’s super cool just to be able to say you won one, let alone say you won by seven shots,” he said. “So yeah, I mean, it was an awesome week and obviously I played some awesome golf.”
Hodges, who turns 29 in June, said his first PGA Tour win didn’t necessarily validate that he belongs playing with the best players in the world. Instead, he said it validates the work he and his team have been doing to get him where he is.
“I’ve always believed in myself and thought I deserved to be out there,” he said. “I would say in my opinion, I work as hard as anybody out there, so I know all the work that I’ve put in behind the scenes that nobody ever sees. The win validates that what I was doing when nobody was looking was working; that I was doing the right stuff.”
The win carries a two-year exemption, which in turn gives Lee Hodges the peace of mind in being able to set his schedule to potentially maximize his results by picking and choosing which tournaments he’ll play in.
Freedom to decide which Tour events to enter
After this week at The Sentry, Hodges will return home and then gear up for the West Coast stretch that includes tournaments at Torrey Pines (Farmers Insurance Open), Pebble Beach (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), Scottsdale (Waste Management Phoenix Open) and Riviera (Genesis Invitational).
Hodges’ team includes Hunter Stewart, a statistician who dissects the numbers to help him figure out which courses and tournaments suit him best.
“My schedule will be a lot more free, which is super great for me and my wife,” Hodges said. “We won’t have to be as tied down to every single tournament. At the end of the day when you’re picking and choosing a schedule like this, it just helps you get on the golf courses where you should play well, which is nice. Hopefully it just frees me up to play some nice golf.”
Paramount to setting his schedule is that certain week in April when the azaleas are in full-bloom in Augusta, Georgia. For Hodges, getting to tee it up in The Masters is a dream-come-true.
“For a kid growing up in Alabama, that’s kind of the peak moment,” he said. “But again, it’s just a golf tournament so you have got to go play golf. But that whole week will be special. My whole family’s going to come and my wife’s family is going to come and enjoy the week with us. My wife’s going to caddie in the par-3 contest, so that’ll be a really cool week that we’re definitely looking forward to.”
Andrew Medley, who grew up at Canebrake, remains Hodges’ caddie. The team has been together for nearly two years. With solid results, there was no reason to change, but Hodges said they are still striving to improve.
“Even though that sounds like a long time, we’re still figuring each other out,” Hodges said. “But we’ve kind of got it down now. I would say throughout the year we got our system down because every player and caddie kind of work together differently. Throughout the year me and Andrew really got our pattern down and how we like to go about our business and communicate. Obviously, going in the next year, we feel pretty confident in what we do Monday through Sunday and we like our process. So, we’re just going to keep doing that.”
With the arrival of a new season, Lee Hodges said he has no specific goals in mind other than to continue to refine his game.
“My attitude is every day I’m practicing I just try to get a little bit better at everything,” he said. “Honestly, I would just say I want to be better at every part of the game. I wouldn’t say there’s any part of the game that I’ve got down where it doesn’t need to improve any. So just every day I go out, if I could get 1 percent better, we’ll just keep doing that and see where it stacks up at the end.”
Featured image of Lee Hodges courtesy of the Korn Ferry Tour