Anyone who bet on a Pick Six of Edwin Evers, Jordan Lee, Gerald Swindle, KVD, Brandon Palaniuk and Jacob Wheeler to miss the money at Lake Martin is probably sitting on a yacht parked off of St. Tropez right now rather than reading this column. If you add in Steve Kennedy, Jacob Wheeler and Keith Combs, it’s even more improbable. All nine of them are probably madder than stuck pigs right now, but if past performance is any indicator of future results, most if not all of them will bounce back by season’s end.
For me, the real story of Martin was the group of talented “have nots” who came to populate the top twelve on Championship Sunday. In fact, if you look at the top 11 finishers, subtracting out pseudo-rookie Roy Hawk, you can be sure that all of them are breathing a sigh of relief that 2018 didn’t start off the way that 2017 began and/or ended.
Look back at Cherokee’s results from last year and you’ll see what I mean. Four of this week’s top 11 – including winner Takahiro Omori, Luke Clausen, Justin Lucas and Brett Hite, all of them past tour level winners – were in triple digits. Three more – JVD, Jared Lintner and Dean Rojas – all missed the cut to Saturday. In fact, Adrian Avena, who finished 3rd at Martin, was the only one comfortably inside the cut at Cherokee, where he finished 34th. Two more, Andy Montgomery and Mark Menendez, snuck inside the cut at 42nd and 48th, respectively.
Overall, despite their stellar credentials, our group of 10 averaged a 75th place finish at Cherokee.
And if you picked a team of Alabamians, looking for a home field advantage, you too were likely disappointed, as transplant Justin Lucas and reigning Rookie of the Year were the only two to make it, although they weren’t talked about prior to the event in the same tones used for Jesse Wiggins, Kelly Jaye and Steve Kennedy.
That tough start was a harbinger of a difficult season for most of our 10 survivors. In fact, Clausen, who finished dead last (110th) at Cherokee, was the only one to make the Classic through the Elites. Lucas, Menendez, Rojas, Montgomery, Hite, Lintner and Omori, all of whom are used to either being in the Classic or in the hunt for a spot, finished between 64th and 84th in the AOY race, not even within sniffing distance of a berth. JVD (42nd) and Avena (46th) came closer, but couldn’t close the deal. Overall, these 10 averaged a 63rd place finish in the AOY result, unfamiliar territory for just about every one.
I suppose the bottom line of this isn’t to suggest that a jackrabbit start is the only way to come out on top at season’s end, nor does a single bad finish doom you, as both Clausen and eventual AOY Brandon Palaniuk ably demonstrated. But it does show the folly of trying to predict just about anything in this sport – just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’s all flippity-flop and yesterday’s early departures prove that just about all have them have the potential to consistently show up on any given Sunday.