Matt Hendrix is happy with the state of his game. The Aiken native should be after winning his second tournament of the year Sunday, prevailing in a playoff in the Cutter Creek Classic on the NGA Golf Tour.
“The last few weeks, my game is getting more solid. I’m feeling better and better,” Hendrix said Monday of improvements that have shown themselves through consistency. “I’ve tightened up my ball pattern and my misses are tighter. (Contending for titles) is just a matter of getting some putts to fall.”
That was the winning formula in the event played at Cutter Creek Golf in Snow Hill, N.C. Hendrix, a two-time All-American at Clemson, had rounds of 70-66-71-67 to finish 14-under 274 and force his way into a playoff with former British Amateur Champion Jim Jeong.
“I had a big second round, that put me in the mix,” Hendrix reflected of being one of a handful of golfers within a stroke of the lead coming into the last three holes in the final round. “I made par on 16, par on 17 and 18, there was no wind and it was reachable,” Hendrix said of the green guarded by water. “I pulled it, but got away with it. Then I chipped within six or seven feet of the hole.”
From there, Hendrix sank a birdie putt and forced his way into the playoff with Jeong, who finished 14th at the 2010 British Open. Both players returned to the tee on No. 18 and played the hole well. Both made birdies to force a second playoff hole, again No. 18.
Hendrix was in a comfort zone and said he hit an even bigger drive than his previous two tee shots on Cutter Creek’s 18th. Jeong, however, couldn’t keep pace. His drive ended up in the rough, opening the door for Hendrix to win.
With that opportunity, Hendrix said he responded with his “best swing of the tournament.” He hit a 3-iron flush, leaving him looking at a 25-foot eagle putt. Although his eagle didn’t go in, and Jeong rallied to keep the pressure on, the tournament was over when Hendrix dropped in his third consecutive birdie on 18.
He also had his second tournament title of 2013. Back in February, Hendrix won the eGolf Tour’s Palmetto Hall Championship at Palmetto Hall Plantation on Hilton Head Island.
“I’ve worked for years and years to get my golf swing where I can contend each week. Things are finally starting to click. I’m hitting the ball a lot more flush and straighter,” said Hendrix, who has also posted second, third and fifth place finishes in NGA Tour events this year. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can compete every week. I’ve hit a new level.”
With his victory, Hendrix took home the first-place prize of $22,000 and is third on the NGA Tour money list with four top-5 finishes in just seven events. More significantly, with the win comes an exemption into Utah Championship on the Web.com Tour July 11-14 in Sandy, Utah.
“I’m going to use that to my advantage,” Hendrix said of the shot on the Web.com Tour, where he’s already played in three events this season after spending last summer on professional golf’s second-best tour in the Western Hemisphere.
Hendrix previously had a provisional PGA Tour card and has played 28 events on the big tour.
“I’ve played at every level and I have experience,” said Hendrix, who’s hopeful of finishing 2013 as a full-time Web.com Tour player where he’s ranked 72nd among the money leaders with $76,725 in earnings. A strong showing in Utah would make that possible. “It’s up in the air. When they reshuffle the money leaders, if I can play Web.com, I’ll play Web.com. If not, I’ll finish the year on NGA and may try on some Monday’s to qualify for a PGA event.”
Hendrix won’t take any time off before the Utah Championship. He’ll be in action in the Florida Marine Open, an NGA event at Beau Chene Country Club in Mandeville. La., starting on Thursday. He said he feels better about his game when he’s playing in a tournament. He’s looking to build momentum for Utah, where he’s had past success.
Although he tied for 46th place last year, Hendrix has a couple of top-20 finishes in Utah, tying for 12th in 2011 and 18th in 2006.
“I’ve had good results in Utah. I have nothing but good thoughts going there,” something he has of Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner, fellow Aiken compatriots having good seasons on professional golf tours. “They have fundamentally solid swings and games,” Hendrix said of Brown, playing on the PGA Tour, and Kisner of the Web.com. “It makes you think back to just how strong the junior programs are in the (Aiken) area. Most of the credit goes to Jackie Seawell, he taught us to play tournament golf.”
Hendrix admits it’s hard to keep up with all of his old area rivals, but is pleased with their success. Brown won the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open in early March, clinching the title the same day Kisner won the Chile Classic of the Web.com Tour. Hendrix said he welcomes the chance to play with them again.
“Hopefully we can get on the same tour with Scott and play together every week,” Hendrix said.
If he adds another win on another tour this summer, he’ll be much closer to making that a reality.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.