Gordon Finishes T3, Earns Special Temporary Membership

Greg Arias

Cromwell, Conn. (Jim McCabe, PGATour.com) - As brilliantly as Will Gordon played in Sunday’s final round of the Travelers Championship, he did even more exquisitely by just standing around talking to the media, without a club in his hands.

His 6-under 64 – punctuated by a stuffed approach from 97 yards to birdie the par-4 18th – had left the onetime Vanderbilt star and SEC Player of the Year in a share of third place, at 17-under. But by the time he got around to answering a few questions, his standing had improved; he was now solo third.

“I love that,” said Gordon, whose sponsor’s exemption was the latest example of Tournament Director Nathan Grube’s golden touch when it comes to these coveted spots into the TPC River Highlands party.

Back in 2011, amateur invite Patrick Cantlay shot a second-round 60 and just one year ago, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matt Wolff used the Travelers as a steppingstone to their rookie-year wins on the PGA TOUR.

Gordon might be even more impressive, given that he had so much to play for – and he got almost everything he could have asked for. While his team of advisors probably knew what sort of finish Gordon needed to compile enough non-member FedExCup points to nail down a Special Temporary Membership, the 23-year-old from Davidson, N.C., kept his head down.

When he opened with a 66, his story started to simmer, then it went into full-force percolation with a second-round 61. That earned him a share of second, one stroke behind his Saturday playing competitor, Phil Mickelson. Add that to the memorable aspects of this tournament, as was his Sunday pairing alongside Jon Rahm, but clearly everything was trumped by how he closed in style.

Three birdies in an outward 32 pushed him up the board, then he made three more birdies to get within two of the lead. A three-putt from just inside of 30 feet slowed his momentum, but Gordon ripped a 336-yard drive at 18, slammed a wedge to about 3 feet, and put a true exclamation point on just his eighth PGA TOUR start.

Time to start crunch those non-member FEC points?

Gordon shook his head.

“I knew the higher, the better, so I was watching the leaderboard coming in. But I can’t control all that stuff, so I’m just trying to play the best golf I can.”

Told that a tie for third, or better, would provide enough points to earn him a STM, Gordon smiled. “That would be awesome. (But) it’s going to shake out one way (or another) at the end and I can’t control that.”

As if to prove why you can never assume anything when golf is involved, Gordon appeared set for a solo third finish until Mackenzie Hughes worked some magic after a brief weather delay. Slam-dunking a 47-footer at the par-4 17th and holing from 43 feet at the par-4 18th, Hughes finished birdie, birdie to get a share of third place alongside Gordon, both of them one behind runner-up Kevin Streelman in a tournament that would prove to be Dustin Johnson’s 21st PGA TOUR win.

Still, it proved why Gordon chose not to work his calculator, but rather savor the emotions of the last four days.

Meeting Mickelson was a thrill, although Gordon had met Tim Mickelson, a former head coach at Arizona State, during the recruiting process. (Vanderbilt won out for Gordon’s talents.) Meanwhile, it was another Arizona State connection, Rahm, who chatted up Gordon in their Sunday round.

“Jon was asking if I had Korn Ferry (Tour) status and I told him my situation,” said Gordon, who would have been exempt into the Korn Ferry Finals in 2020, only that got canceled because of the pandemic. Thus, he’s been left to play off PGA TOUR sponsor invites and that is why his Travelers finish was so crucial. Gordon can now get unlimited exemptions for having his STM.

There will be regrets, albeit small ones. Coming off a second-round 61, Gordon concedes that “I was a little bit anxious” paired with Mickelson Saturday. The decision to hit driver and cut the corner at the 391-yard, par-4 ninth proved painful; Gordon’s drive hit a tree and caromed right, out of bounds.

“That drive on nine (it led to a double-bogey) and the wedge I plugged into the bunker at 16 (bogey) . . . if I just take those two things out and I par those two holes, I’m three shots better already,” he said.

“Just realizing little stuff like that is encouraging (and shows me) I can compete out here.”

Certainly, he’ll get more chances to do just that. Having already been granted a sponsor’s exemption into next week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, Gordon gets in there as a top-10 finisher here. Unlimited sponsor invites can come his way for his STM and so while he didn’t leave TPC River Highlands with a check ($436,600) as large as Johnson’s ($1,332,000), it’s safe to say Gordon felt like the biggest winner of the week.

NOTE: Content courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics press release. 

Follow Greg on Twitter @GregAriasSports and @SIVanderbilt or Facebook at Vanderbilt Commodores-Maven

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