Buckley won a three-person playoff at Lakewood National Golf Club to take the trophy.
The 2021 LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club was a literal last-to-first story.
Hayden Buckley, 24, was the last golfer in the field, starting the week on the alternate list. He tried getting in through the Monday qualifier at Sarasota's Laurel Oak Country Club and failed. But by Thursday morning, Buckley was first on the alternate list. He showed up to the course around 6 a.m., hoping he would get the call that his time was here.
If he was, his tee time was 7:17 a.m. He got the call at approximately 7 a.m. Buckley had five minutes to gather himself before getting to his tee.
Then he won the whole thing.
Buckley shot 13 under par for the tournament — one under par on Sunday — and defeated Taylor Montgomery and Dawson Armstrong in a three-person playoff on the No. 18 hole to win the tournament, sinking a 10-foot birdie putt after Montgomery and Armstrong missed their attempts. He will receive $108,000 of the tournament's $600,000 purse as a prize, along with the tournament trophy.
"To get up there [in the playoff] and to do what you know you have to do, knowing it's going to change your life, it's tough to put into words," Buckley said. "Now that it has happened, it's a lot of relief. It's knowing that I can plan a schedule. I've got a whole year no matter what, and I'm chasing a [PGA] Tour card now, too. It's not going to be living cut to cut anymore."
A few holes prior to the playoff, Buckley didn't appear to have a chance at winning. He and Billy Kennerly entered the day tied for the lead at 12 under par, but through 14 holes, Kennerly had taken a commanding three-stroke lead at 16 under par. Then Kennerly started to falter. He bogeyed No. 15, then parred No. 16 before collapsing on No. 17, recording a double bogey. While this was happening, Buckley remained steady, parring all three holes.
Entering No. 18, Kennerly and Buckley were tied at 13 under par — and so were Montgomery and Armstrong. Buckley made par to remain in the potential playoff, but Kennerly missed his putt for par, ending his hopes at a win. He finished 12 under par.
"With four to play, I kind of felt out of it," Buckley said. "Billy [Kennerly] was playing so well all day … then, suddenly, we're tied going into [No.] 18. I was lucky to get in that playoff."
Once in it, though, there was little doubt in Buckley's mind what would happen next. Buckley said he's had a lot of experience with playoffs, both good and bad. That helped him keep his mind where it needed to be.
"I did not want to play two holes," Buckley said. "I'm tired. My legs hurt. I have to drive a few hours to a Monday qualifier tomorrow for the Puerto Rico Open. I think we were all ready to get out of there. It was nice to get it done."
Rounding out the top five were Brent Grant and Dan McCarthy, who both finished 11 under par.
Buckley, a University of Missouri graduate, was joined by his girlfriend, Feleysa Nguyen, and their three-year-old dog, Macy. Buckley said Sunday was Macy's first time at one of his tournaments and joked that he might need to bring her to a few more.
The win was Buckley's first Korn Ferry Tour win.
"Getting it done is something you dream about," Buckley said. "I think we have all sat on a putting green and thought about winning a golf tournament with a 10-footer. It's an incredible story, and I'm really happy it's me."