For Mark Hubbard, the road back to the PGA Tour ran through Lakewood Ranch.
Mark Hubbard needed something good to happen.
The golfer was in a year-long funk when the inaugural LECOM Suncoast Classic came around in February 2019. He had lost his PGA Tour card in 2017 after three seasons and had not been able to get it back, instead dropping to the Web.com Tour (now known as the Korn Ferry Tour).
If he continued to struggle, would he quit golf? No, he thought. That would be unconscionable.
Despite his perseverance, something had to change, and fast.
"My game was down in the dumps," Hubbard said. "I was in a rough place mentally. I had been missing cuts. In golf, confidence is so important, and I had none of it at the time. I needed one tournament to get my confidence back. Sometimes, that's all it takes. Things can snowball in both directions, good and bad."
Hubbard, 30, said he entered the 2019 Suncoast Classic, held at Lakewood National Golf Club, with low expectations. Whatever was going to happen would happen. Hubbard said he focused on not getting overwhelmed by the pressure he was feeling inside to have good week. He decided to stick to his plan — take advantage of the Par 5s as much as possible and play the very tough holes, No. 1-3, at one over par, at least — and focus on getting his breathing under control.
Once the tournament started, his plan went even better than expected. He shot 26 under par for the tournament, two strokes better than runner-up Maverick McNealy, and took home the trophy and the $99,000 purse. It was his first professional victory.
One year later, Hubbard's life is on a different trajectory. He parlayed the Suncoast Classic win into earning his PGA Tour card back, and has taken advantage of being back in the big leagues. Hubbard is ranked 28th in the FedEx Cup standings as of Jan. 29. He finished tied for second (13 under par) at the Houston Open on Oct. 13 with Scott Harrison, one stroke behind Lanto Griffin, and has two other top-25 finishes.
Best yet, he has earned $1,072,398 this season on the PGA Tour.
"The Suncoast (Classic) changed everything for me," Hubbard. "It was the best moment of my year. It was where I learned how to win again. I found that confidence I was looking for. It was where I changed my perspective, from being results-oriented to being process-oriented, which actually got me my best results."
Hubbard might have moved on from the Korn Ferry Tour, but he said he hopes the fans support this year's tournament like they did in 2019. The Suncoast Classic can be a life-changing experience for a golfer, and Hubbard knows that better than anyone. He said he also hopes fans realize the level of competition the Korn Ferry Tour offers, and how lucky they are to have it in their backyard.
"That tour gets better every year," Hubbard said. "I've played a lot on both that tour and the PGA Tour. The only difference is depth. On the PGA, you have 120 guys at every tournament who could win the thing. On the (Korn Ferry) tour, you have between 70 and 80 who could win. The guys at the top can absolutely compete with the guys on the PGA Tour. They are just as strong."