Perseverance and Redemption: Vaughn Taylor Gets Rewarded

    The best players on tour fly between stops in their private jets. It was a tradition began by Palmer and Nicklaus and continues to this day. Better players lease private jets and don’t have to deal with lines and security at airports. Most guys fly first class and can stretch out on their way to the next stop. Then there are the guys struggling to keep their cards and make it from week to week on tour where first class is the rare luxury.

    For the last few years, the other ones included Vaughn Taylor. The Augusta native and Augusta State College grad began his PGA Tour career with promise, winning a couple of events and making the 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Then a long journey back to the winner’s circle began. Taylor was more concerned about trying to earn a fully exempt PGA Tour card back than an automatic invitation to his beloved, hometown Masters again. Then fate and performance met at a cross roads called Pebble Beach during February’s AT&T National Pro-Am.

    Taylor was a late bloomer – turning pro in 1999 and then toiling away on the Hooters and Nationwide Tours. He won 4 times on the Hooters tour and just once on Nationwide. Still, he persevered and got his PGA Tour card in 2004 at age 28. He won the PGA’s Reno-Tahoe Open in both 2004 and 2005. Of course, critics were quick to point out this tournament is an “alternative” PGA event held on the same weekend the best players were teeing it up at a World Golf Championship (WGC) event.

    By 2006, Taylor was playing consistently well, carding 6 top-10’s during the season and earning a spot in the Ryder Cup. Taylor went 0-1-1 as a member of that Ryder Cup squad. Still, he continued to keep his PGA Tour card and in 2010, he appeared to be on the upswing again. He turned in 6 top-10’s again that year and ended 35th in the FedEx Cup point standings. That’s when the bottom fell out of the bucket. He failed to record a single top-10 in 2011 and 2012. He lost his PGA Tour card. He had to take advantage of sponsor’s exemptions and PGA past champion provisions to make as many starts as possible without fully exempt status. He started to see improvements last season, making the cut in 11 of the 12 PGA Tour events he started and posted 6 top-25 finishes.

    This year he was splitting time between and the PGA. He didn’t even have a spot in the AT&T tournament until Cal Pettersen withdrew on the Monday before the tournament. This opened up a spot for Taylor and he seized the opportunity like a character in a Hollywood film. Taylor began the week solidly enough, but wasn’t viewed as a threat to win the tournament. In fact, he went into Sunday’s final round at Pebble Beach 6 shots behind 3rd round leader Phil Mickelson.

    Taylor started solidly 2 under par on the front and then caught fire on Pebble Beach’s back side. He ended up shooting a 7 under par 65, several groups in front of Mickelson. Then it was a waiting game. Mickelson had struggled in round 3, getting up and down a PGA record tying 9 times while posting a 66. He struggled again with his ball-striking on Sunday and after making all of his putts under 6 feet over the tournament’s first 71 holes, Phil’s 5-foot putt to force a playoff only caught the edge on the home hole. Mickelson had to settle for second. For Taylor, it was a $1 million plus payday, a fully exempt tour card and a spot in the Masters and the PGA Championship.