PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — A lefty won at Pebble Beach on Sunday, it just wasn’t Lefty.
Phil Mickelson is the name that comes to mind among golfers who swing from the other side of the golf ball, but it was little-known Ted Potter who prevailed, outplaying long-hitting Dustin Johnson in the final group and staying far enough ahead of the Hall of Fame left-hander to thwart any final-day charge.
To suggest that the two golfers are quite different is an understatement akin to describing Pebble Beach as a nice place.
They both play golf left-handed and do everything else right-handed. The similarities end there.
Mickelson, 47, of course is golf royalty. Destined for greatness. A three-time NCAA champion, winner of a PGA Tour event as an amateur and nearly 25 straight years in the top 50 in the world plus his 42 professional wins and five majors.
Potter, 34, turned pro out of high school, won a few dozen mini-tour events, missed 24 consecutive cuts on the Web.com Tour as a 20-year-old and somehow has worked his way back to the PGA Tour after a severe ankle injury that cost him nearly three years of competitive golf. His lone victory on the PGA Tour before Sunday was at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.
And yet, both players have their name on the Pebble Beach trophy — although it is a total of four times for Mickelson.
“I’m definitely thrilled,” said Potter, who earned $1.332-million to run his career PGA Tour earnings to just over $4 million — or a decent endorsement deal for Mickelson.
“I’m so happy right now to get it done today, especially against the No. 1 in the world, playing with him today. And to win here at Pebble is just unbelievable. It’s beautiful.”
Potter appeared to have no chance against the No. 1-ranked Johnson, especially after a bogey on the first hole and a drive that Johnson ripped 50 yards past him at the second.
But Potter, ranked 246th in the world, settled down, making four birdies on the front side and all pars on the back to shoot 3-under-par 69 and win by three over Mickelson, Johnson, Jason Day and Chez Reavie.
Johnson, who appeared poised to win his 18th PGA Tour title, could manage only a par-72 that included a birdie at the last hole that was far too little. Mickelson shot 67 but started his rally too late, with birdies on three of the last five holes. It was his second top-five finish in consecutive weeks.
“It was great to feel the nerves again,” said Mickelson, who played his 100th tournament without a victory since capturing the 2013 Open. “Unfortunately it’s not enough. But it was a great week, a lot of fun.
“I’ve had much better results these last two [weeks] by simply getting out of my own way. By that I mean not worrying so much about technique and start getting into the rounds, playing and hitting shots and having fun and trusting all the work that I’ve put in the past couple years getting my technique where I want it and to trust it. I’m going to try to take this momentum and carry it over into next week at Riviera and see if I can improve on it just a little bit.”
Potter wasn’t sure he’d be in the field at the Genesis Open until he won on Sunday, which gave him a two-year exemption and invitations to this year’s Masters, Players Championship and invitational events.
He wasn’t sure if he’d be playing golf at all in 2015 when he was dealing with an ankle surgery as the result of slipping on a curb. He required 12 screws and two plates — and when it was time to play golf, there was so much stiffness that it was eventually decided to remove the screws and plates.
With no status last year on the Web.com Tour, Potter managed to earn his PGA Tour card for this year, which “was a big step for me,” he said.
It’s a long way from turning pro in Ocala, Florida, working in the cart barn at a local club and trying to play events on the Moonlight Tour in Orlando on off days.
“I’d try to win a couple of hundred bucks, or whatever,” he said. “And then from there you try to play in bigger events to win more money to get into the four-day events to win more money. A mini tour player is always living paycheck-to-paycheck. So that’s a lot of pressure on you.”
Potter handled it beautifully on Sunday with a bigger prize at stake, then reveled in the victory afterward, still trying to comprehend what it all means.
Meanwhile, Mickelson was flying home to San Diego on his own plane.