Two years after he led UCLA to an NCAA title, Kevin Chappell is headed to the PGA Tour.
With his first Nationwide Tour victory among seven top-10s this year, he is No. 8 on the money list with two tournaments remaining and mathematically assured of finishing in the top 25 to graduate to the big leagues.
“If I look at it emotionally, it feels like a very long time,” Chappell said. “But if I look at it in terms of my career, it feels like a short time. If I want to play until I’m 50, then it’s only two years out of about 30.”
Chappell won the Jack Nicklaus Award in 2008 as the nation’s top college player, and he had high expectations. But he started his first full season as a pro with no status on the Nationwide Tour, and he had to try to Monday qualify.
He missed out on his first nine attempts.
What kept his spirits high was his performance at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he tied for sixth in a tournament that was shortened to 54 holes because of rain. That was worth $197,487, and it was enough to pay the bills as he struggled on the Nationwide.
“I felt like I was playing with house money,” Chappell said. “But it still was stressful to shoot 68, feel like I was playing good, but not get into the tournament. Once I got in, I was able to break down that wall, and it seemed like it was easier.”
With a full schedule this year, Chappell had top-10s in two events before February, won the Nationwide Tour’s Fresh Express Classic and tied for second in the BMW Charity Pro-Am, which put him atop the money list in May and sent him on his way.
Chappell, who tied for 24th in the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open last week at CordeValle, is among 98 of the top 100 players on the Nationwide Tour money list at the Jacksonville Open, which starts Thursday on the Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass, then goes to South Carolina for the Nationwide Tour Championship.
He is more relaxed than most, since his PGA Tour card is assured. And while he didn’t go straight from college to the PGA Tour like Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and most recently Rickie Fowler, Chappell thinks he might be better off.
“My whole career has been about improving, stepping up the ladder when I was ready,” he said. “With my personality, I think it would be harder for me to take a step back than to start from the bottom and work my way up.”