PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Ted Potter Jr. has a chance to earn his second career PGA Tour victory while playing in the final group alongside the world’s top-ranked player Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
It wasn’t long ago, though, that Potter couldn’t even walk.
On the morning of July 27, 2014, the day after Potter missed the cut at the RBC Canadian Open, he took a wrong step in flip-flops outside of his hotel in Montreal and fractured his right ankle.
“It was just a freak accident,” Potter said.
Potter had surgery a few days later and was initially supposed to be sidelined for four months. But the timeline didn’t play out as planned and a year later Potter had another surgery to remove plates and screws from the ankle.
“It was just a waiting process,” Potter said. “I didn’t know exactly when I would come back.”
At the time of the injury, Potter was fighting to keep his Tour card. When he returned a year and a half later, he was given two starts to earn the 12 FedEx Cup points he would’ve needed to finish inside the top 150 in 2014. He missed the cut in both events and lost his card.
Perseverance, though, is in Potter’s blood. The Ocala, Fla., native turned pro right out of Lake Weir High School in 2012, and two years later – and still a teenager – missed every cut in 24 starts on the Nationwide Tour, now called the Web.com Tour. Despite significant success on the mini-tours, it took him years to gain footing on the Tour’s developmental circuit.
That is until he won the 2011 South Georgia Classic after Monday-qualifying into the event. Potter won once more on the Nationwide Tour that year, and the next year broke through with his first PGA Tour win, at the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.
Potter rose to 83rd in the Official World Golf Ranking after the victory. After the broken ankle, Potter dropped all the way to No. 1,249. This week he is No. 246, 245 spots higher than his Sunday playing competitor, Dustin Johnson.
There are few parallels between Johnson and Potter. Johnson is just a month removed from an eight-shot victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, a win that made it 11 straight seasons that Johnson has won at least once on Tour. Last year Johnson won four times, including three straight events before withdrawing from the Masters with an injury.
Aside from the mini-tours, Potter has just 16 top-10s – total.
“I haven’t been in contention too much, really,” Potter said. “I’ve had some good tournaments, but I need to get there more often to get comfortable there. Tomorrow will be a good test for me and to see how it goes.”
Potter will certainly be riding some momentum. He fired his lowest round ever on Tour with a 9-under 62 on Saturday around Monterey Peninsula Country Club’s Shore Course. He birdied his first four holes after starting on the back nine and turned in 7 under. He was 11 under through 15 holes, but a par-bogey-bogey finish ended his chances at joining the exclusive 59 club.
“Definitely helps when the hole looks twice as big as opposed to twice as small sometimes,” Potter said.
The key for Potter, though, could be his swing. Potter traditionally hits a draw, but he’s been trying to work a fade into his arsenal. Two weeks ago at Farmers Insurance Open, Potter opened in 66 but ended up tied for 73rd come Sunday.
“The first round at Torrey Pines I played really well, the swing was getting better,” Potter said, “but I still wanted to go back to old habits at the same time, especially when you get under pressure.”
Potter will feel pressure unlike anything he’s felt before. Winning the Greenbrier is one thing. But topping a leaderboard that includes Johnson, Jason Day, Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson – all of whom are in the top 10 – at one of golf’s most iconic venues in Pebble Beach will be an even taller task.
“I mean, I just got to get in the position where I have a chance,” Potter said. “I feel like I’ll be fine once I get there.”
Potter regained his Tour card a year ago with three top-3 finishes on the Web.com Tour. He said his ankle is still not 100 percent and still gets sore after rounds, but it “feels good enough,” he said. This season he has missed five of eight cuts, though when he won the Greenbrier back in 2012 he had missed five of six cuts.
“There’s a few guys out here that have gone missed cut, missed cut, won,” Potter said. “Sometimes it’s just one little swing thought that triggers you into the right direction.”
Or sometimes it’s 62.
Potter is again in position to walk away a champion Sunday. More importantly, he is healthy enough to do it.