Philadelphia, PA – If this year on the PGA Tour showed anything, it's that the Nationwide Tour should be looked at seriously for golfers of the future.
After a record number of rookies won on the big tour and Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship, one can look at this year's Nationwide Tour finish and possibly see among it a future major champion. And not in the next five years -- more like 2012.
It was written after last year that the Nationwide Tour season turned out to be a dud because there was no in-season promotion. Once again, several players had a golden opportunity to earn win No. 3 of the year, but once again, nobody stepped up to the plate.
No matter, we've now seen what some of these players can do when given an opportunity on the biggest stage. And besides, two wins gets you promoted in the long run anyway.
If anyone considered the Nationwide Tour a place where borderline prospects get sent to the big stage, it's time to re-think your position. There will be winners on the 2012 PGA Tour from the group of 25 promoted. It's anyone's guess just who that will be.
The 2011 Nationwide Tour season was another good one with a few dominant players, some familiar names and some new ones. In the end, it was a new face that came out just a tad better than the rest of them.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - J.J. Killeen
The winner of this year's money title, Killeen came out of nowhere to capture the Utah Championship and Cox Classic in back-to-back weeks in late July-early August. It had many people thinking he would be the one to earn the elusive promotion to the PGA Tour, but it didn't happen until the end of the season.
He had been knocking on the door with a pair of top-five finishes earlier in the year, but finally broke through in July for his first career win. Now, he'll get a chance to do the same thing on the PGA Tour for the first time.
Killeen finished rather slow, with two cuts missed in his last four events, but it doesn't overshadow his tour-leading six top-five finishes and $12,000 lead over Ted Potter, Jr. for the money title.
Missing the cut: Potter, Mathew Goggin and Jason Kokrak.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR - Children's Hospital Invitational
Coming into the year, only one amateur had won in Nationwide Tour history. Early in 2011, Russell Henley made it two, and the Children's Hospital Invitational proved to be a guarantee for a third.
Whereas Henley fought off numerous professionals, this event had two amateurs battling for the title all week, with nobody else in contention by the end. John Peterson held the lead for each of the first three rounds, and Harris English came charging at the end to battle for the title.
Peterson led English by one at the start of the final round, and the two made up the final pairing of the tournament. Peterson found himself three strokes clear after a two-shot swing at the first hole.
Just when it looked as if Peterson, the NCAA Individual Champion, would cruise to the title, English birdied a pair of holes to cut the gap to one once again. English finally drew even with a birdie at the 12th, and there were six holes left to figure out which guy was going to take the crown.
English went ahead for the first time when Peterson bogeyed the 14th, but Peterson came back with a birdie at the 15th, and English bogeyed the hole to create a two-shot swing that changed the lead.
Heading into the final hole, Peterson held a one-stroke advantage, but it simply wasn't meant to be for the LSU Tiger. His tee shot off the final hole landed in a divot in the rough, and he ended up missing a 15-footer for par. When English drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the same hole, it was the Georgia Bulldog, English, who took the crown in exciting fashion.
In the end, the biggest beneficiary may have been Kyle Reifers, who got to take home first-place money after finishing in a tie for second. Reifers, who collected the biggest check because the two amateurs maintained their status, ended up fifth on the money list and earned a promotion to the PGA Tour.
English and Peterson, meanwhile, did not.
SHOT OF THE YEAR - The shot of the year turned out to be a miss, unfortunately.
Former Midshipman Billy Hurley III needed a couple balls to bounce his way in the Nationwide Tour Championship to earn his PGA Tour card for 2012. After five years post-graduation in the Navy, he had made it this far, but was about to barely miss the top 25.
David Lingmerth began the final event 50th on the money list, but had a five- foot birdie putt on the last hole to make it into the top 25. Instead, he missed it and finished 27th.
Unfortunate, but golf is a zero-sum game, meaning someone benefited from the miss.
That someone was Hurley.
He didn't have any wins this year, but Hurley got into the top 25 by about $5,000 over James Nitties. Hurley walked off the course in 26th, but finished in 25th to get the biggest prize of his life. Nitties and Lingmerth can both get onto the PGA Tour next year as they made it to the Final Stage of Q School.
Potter: One of four players with two wins, Potter finished second on the money list, $12,000 behind Killeen despite seven fewer events. If he had had a better schedule, maybe he would have been a lock for an in-season promotion.
English: He finished 65th on the money list, just missing the field for the Nationwide Tour Championship. Had he foregone his amateur status when he posted his victory, he would not only have easily made that field, but would likely be ticketed for the PGA Tour as well (and likely would have knocked Hurley out). English could get that elusive tour card as he reached the finals of PGA Tour Q School.
John Smoltz: He got an invitation to play in the South Georgia Classic, and the future Hall of Fame pitcher, who is a scratch golfer, was expected to prove his worth. While he wasn't expected to win, he wasn't expected to finish nine strokes worse than anybody else. At 27-over-par through two rounds, Smoltz was never in the hunt to make the cut.