As Wyatt Worthington II awaited his John Shippen Invitational trophy, he was introduced to Detroit Lions legend Barry Sanders and struck up a conversation.
Worthington notably idolizes Tiger Woods, from whom he received a golf lesson as a high school student, thanks to a partnership between the First Tee of Columbus and the Woods Foundation. He also loves Sanders, who he watched juke against defenders on TV growing up.
Before brandishing a note sheet and delivering his victory speech at the Detroit Golf Club on Sunday, Worthington jotted down the most memorable line from his first meeting with the former Lion: “Opportunity is disguised as hard work,” a a sentiment that Sanders told Worthington his father often expressed.
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Worthington got to work on Sunday, shooting a 7-under 65, eight shots better than his effort on Saturday. The PGA club professional totaled 6 under 138 to earn a one-shot Rocket Mortgage Classic exemption. He qualified for the 2016 and 2022 PGA Championships as a club professional, so next weekend will be his first PGA Tour event without that designation, and he couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity.
“There are great gentlemen here, and 22 players who at any time can be in this place, and they deserve their flowers too; they have the game to be on the PGA Tour,” Worthington said. “And I’m very lucky to be a part of it with me, because at the end of the day, steel sharpens steel, and if it wasn’t for these guys who push each other every time we crash a tee in the ground, it won’t give us the opportunity to get into the ropes like that, so it was amazing.
Worthington, a teacher at Golf Depot in Gahanna, Ohio, felt he was playing better than his four-bogey scorecard indicated on Saturday; he remained patient entering the second heat on the soggy and windy course designed by Donald Ross. Worthington birdied No 4 and 5 and landed a wayward tee shot that led to a bogey on No 6.
He bounced off birdies Nos. 7, 8, 10 and 12 and stayed strong down the home stretch, adding birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 while strolling the fairways with caddy Andy Gibson, one of his best friends from college.
“I kind of just told him, I was like, ‘Let’s try to capitalize on the par fives,'” Worthington said. “We didn’t do a good job with that on day one, and the main thing (is) you haven’t finished after 17 years. I was like, ‘We have to put the ball in play and we have to give us birdie opportunities on the 18th.’ And if anyone has seen green 18 or been able and lucky to play it, it is one of the most difficult greens I have seen.
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Michael Herrera, who finished a shot behind Worthington with a 5-under 139, discovered trouble on the No. 18 when he missed a birdie putt to tie the lead. He thought the putt was for the win after last checking the score after a birdie on the No. 15. Ryan Alford, his friend and competitor, informed him otherwise as he left the course.
Herrera was unable to rekindle the magic of his APGA victory at TPC Scottsdale in April, when he successfully putt on the No. 18. But the Southern California native went home with it anyway. $2,000 and was happy with how he competed.
“I hit the putt where I wanted to,” Herrerra said. “He just didn’t fall and we missed a shot. … The conditions were not so easy on the second day, the wind was there. Hitting the ball was great, just needed to see a few more putts fall.
Tim O’Neal, the 2021 Shippen winner, fired 66 shots on Sunday and tied Aaron Beverly for third at 4 under. His Sunday couple, Flint native Willie Mack III, finished three strokes behind Worthington in a five-way tie for fifth with Ann Arbor native Marcus Byrd, Detroit native and graduate Joe Hooks. Wayne State, and Michigan State golfer Troy Taylor II.
Taylor was honored as the top amateur finisher. He said he loved seeing the Rocket Mortgage Classic grandstands, providing the atmosphere of a Tour event. The Westerville, Ohio native also enjoyed playing with Worthington, who has known and encouraged the MSU star since he was a kid, much like Woods mentored him.
“To see him win is awesome,” Taylor said. “But all these guys here kind of gave me their opinion on how to try and get to that level, and there are little things they can give me to grow and be ahead of them when they were my age. It means a lot and I’m really grateful for this opportunity.
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After Taylor and Herrera were recognized, Worthington nervously gave his humble celebratory speech, which he hopes to improve upon in the future, then shot a promotional video for the Rocket Mortgage Classic with Sanders.
He told the great Lions he hoped to play a round with him soon, before learning he had joined him on the pitch for Tuesday’s celebrity run. They will play with Mack, Hooks and former Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, among others.
Then, when the Rocket Mortgage Classic kicks off on Thursday, Worthington will face PGA Tour stars such as world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, No. 13 Will Zalatoris and No. 17 Tony Finau. Worthington has missed the cut in both of his PGA Championship appearances but now has another opportunity to show how hard he has worked.
“I’m excited to play with the best in the world because at the end of the day, that’s where I want to be,” Worthington said. “And I have to thank the good people at Rocket Mortgage and Intersport and the Detroit Golf Club for giving us this opportunity, because without this opportunity I wouldn’t be here.”
Contact Mason Young: MEYoung@freepress.com Follow him on Twitter: @Mason_Young_0