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Former Baylor School and University of Georgia golfer Keith Mitchell earned the largest payday of his PGA Tour rookie season last weekend when he tied for third at the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas.

It comes with the territory.

There can be a certain awkwardness in having financial information revealed, which Keith Mitchell is discovering each week as a PGA Tour rookie. The former Baylor School and University of Georgia standout earned $400,400 last weekend as a result of his third-place finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas, which increased the 26-year-old's season total to more than $1.2 million.

"It's kind of embarrassing," Mitchell said, "because you go home and all your buddies are like, 'Are you buying drinks tonight?' If you set all the money aside, this is what I've worked to do my whole life, and a lot of people in my family have sacrificed a lot so that I can do this. If you look at it that way, this is what I'm supposed to do, and that's what makes it better than the money.

"The goal was to be on the PGA Tour and to contend on the PGA Tour. Yes, it pays the bills, but it's an accomplishment our family has worked on for 20 years."

Mitchell has made more money than any other PGA Tour rookie with Chattanooga-area ties, topping the $1.19 million that former Baylor and Georgia teammate Harris English pocketed in 2012. Luke List made $264,401 during his first full season in 2013.

Gibby Gilbert, who won three career PGA Tour events and was the runner-up at the 1980 Masters, played in an era preceding the Tiger Woods-enhanced paychecks of today.

Last weekend's showing was the third top-10 finish this season for Mitchell, who ranks ninth on the PGA Tour in driving distance.

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Mitchell began this 2017-18 season with a goal of finishing in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup points, which would ensure a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs and PGA Tour status for 2018-19. He is quite comfortable on that front, ranking 57th this week, which is six spots behind Woods and one spot in front of 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner.

"This past week definitely solidified my keeping my Tour card next year," Mitchell said, "so now I can focus on climbing up as far as I can. Hopefully I can get to the Tour Championship, because if you get in the Tour Championship you can play in all the majors next year."

The FedEx Cup Tour Championship in Atlanta hosts the final 30 players from the original 125 who begin the four-tournament format. English qualified in 2015, when he placed 28th.

Mitchell's success this season has been aided by his opening rounds in recent weeks. He opened the Byron Nelson with a 65 after opening with a 67 at The Players Championship and a 67 at the Wells Fargo Championship.

"It never hurts to get off to a good start," Mitchell said. "At the same time, there is never any pressure on a Thursday, and you never know what the leading score is going to be. You don't really have any expectations as far as what is a good score and what's not a good score, so it's kind of free-wheeling.

"I've proven I can do that, but this last week was big for me as far as playing well all four rounds."

Mitchell is bypassing this week's Fort Worth Invitational due to a sore wrist, but he plans to resume competing at next week's Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. The Memorial was founded by Jack Nicklaus in 1976 and is held on a Nicklaus-designed course, and Mitchell said he wasn't about to sit that one out after receiving an invitation.

As evidenced by his earnings and FedEx Cup points that continue to increase, Mitchell is proving his ability to handle pressure at his sport's highest level.

"It's hard when you're out there playing against guys who have been out there for 10 or 15 years and have won 10 or 15 times," he said. "I'm literally playing Tiger Woods now, and when you're playing against Tiger Woods, you don't have the comfort level or the experience to say, 'I know I can beat this guy.' A lot of these guys are the best players in the world, so I'm putting myself up against them, and it's hard not to put pressure on yourself to perform perfectly to beat those guys."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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