Luke List had two long hours to think about what might soon be a reality: a chance to compete in a playoff for his first PGA Tour title.
Fortunately, he also had some welcome distractions.
After signing for a fourth-round 66 at the Farmers Insurance Open that elevated him to 15 under for the week, List had time to kill before the outcome of the fourth round at Torrey Pines would be decided. He joined his family — wife Chloe; daughter Ryann, 3; and son Harrison, 7 months — in player dining. Chloe was feeding Harrison; Luke fetched Ryann a cookie. They hung out and talked and laughed. It could have been a low-key Tuesday afternoon in their Augusta, Ga., home.
Of course, it was anything but. As the final groups reached the 15th and 16th holes, List’s playoff hopes were still very much alive, so he went back outside to rap putts on the practice green and bang balls on the North course, against a dreamy Pacific Ocean backdrop. “I found something in my swing, felt really good,” he said.
The temperature had dropped. Dusk was inching closer. “Luckily, I was kind of warming up again as the light progressed down so my eyes were adjusted,” List said. He was still grinding away when Will Zalatoris arrived on the 18th green. After a nifty approach, Zalatoris had 8 feet left for birdie. Make it and Zalatoris would notch his first PGA Tour win; miss and he’d face List in overtime. Zalatoris’ putt looked good until it didn’t, wobbling left at the last moment.
By this point, the sun was melting into the horizon. You could argue it was silly to start a playoff in the rapidly fading light — there was time for one hole at the most and putts were already getting difficult to read — but both players seemed eager to decide a winner on Saturday. So off they went, back to the 18th tee.
List and Zalatoris both hit soaring fades that landed in the same right fairway bunker, their balls settling just inches from one another’s. Both players hit well placed recovery shots back into the fairway. Both players were left with shortish approaches over the pond that fronts the sprawling, sloping 18th green. Pitching wedge in hand, List hit first. He had 135, only he didn’t play it 135.
List knows a thing or two about playing golf in Southern California; he and Chloe lived for several years in Seal Beach, about 90 miles up the coast from Torrey Pines, which means he has played his share of SoCal courses. And in this high-pressure, high-stakes moment, that local knowledge proved indispensable.
“When the sun goes down, it cools off a good 10 degrees or so and that’s almost 10 yards,” List said. So instead of playing a 135-yard shot, List and his caddie, Jeff Willett, figured the adjusted distance was more like 148. “We had a good number and I just trusted it was going to play that long and I think it landed past with some spin and I think that’s kind of what you have to do on that approach,” List said.
The ball stopped inches, no more than a foot, from the hole, but because of the dwindling light, List had no idea just how brilliant a shot he had hit.
“I couldn’t tell,” he said. “I thought it was like a little behind the hole. Then I got closer, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ … For it to be six inches or whatever the number was was incredible. Obviously, that’s the dream, to have a kick-in that you don’t have to putt, but I was ready to have a putt to win anyway.”
Of course, it wasn’t that putt that clinched him his first Tour crown — it was the swing that had preceded it.
“To hit that wedge shot [was] special,” the new champ said. “I’ll remember that forever.”