By Ken MacLeod
When Rhein Gibson of Edmond tees off Thursday in the Club Columbia Championship in Bogota, he’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive top-20 and third top-10 finish of the young Web.com Tour season.
It’s been a brilliant start for the native Australian who played his collegiate golf at Oklahoma Christian, married an Edmond girl and now calls that city home. He is a member of the new gang of young pros playing out of Oak Tree National, several others of whom will also be competing this week.
With a tie for third, a stand alone third and a tie for 17th in three events, Gibson has already netted $76,996 in earnings, well over the $65,615 he made in 26 events in 2017. He ranks fifth on the Web.com Tour money list. The top 25 at season’s end earn automatic berths onto the PGA Tour, where he competed in 2016. And the top 75 earn spots in the Web.com Tour Finals, where another 25 PGA Tour cards are awarded.
“It’s been a great start,” Gibson said from Bogota today. “I found some good form playing in Australia at the end of last year. I love going over there and playing, it keeps the competitive juices flowing. I also spent some good time with my coach (Joseph Mayo, director of instruction at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas) in early January. So I’ve been able to keep it going.”
When he tees off this week, Gibson will also be using his third caddie of the season. He somewhat notoriously parted ways with the first, Brandon Davis, on the 18th green of the year’s second event, the Bahamas Great Abaco Classic. Needing a birdie on the par-5 to tie for the lead, Gibson hit his second shot in a hazard. He lost a shot there, then a second when Davis incurred an additional stroke penalty by picking the ball out of the hazard before Gibson had taken a drop. Dropping out of second into a tie for third cost him about $12,500.
While Davis and others have contested that Rule 18-2, picking a ball up while it was still in play, was not violated, the on-the-spot result was that Gibson was hot, tossed a clubhead cover at Davis and fired him immediately. He used long-time friend Ryan Munson to caddie last week and will pick up a local caddie in Columbia, before choosing a new one when the Web.com Tour begins its stateside swing in late March in Louisiana.
“It was an unfortunate incident, we both apologized and have moved on,” Gibson said. “It was my second week with him. I’ve had some interest from some other caddies and will make a decision when I get back.”
Because it goes where it can find sponsor dollars, the Web.com Tour typically opens with events in Latin America, including five international events this year before one in the U.S. It’s exceedingly expensive, particularly for the players who have just qualified for the tour from various mini-tours.
“It is a tough way to start,” Gibson said. “Fortunately I was in position to fund myself, but for a lot of the guys just coming on tour it’s a really expensive way to start. You can lose a lot of money if you don’t play well.”
Gibson, instead, has been brilliant. He ranks fourth in scoring average at 69.5 through 12 rounds and first in birdies with 56. Perhaps not too surprising for the man who once shot a record 55 at River Oaks Country Club in Edmond.
Gibson admittedly wore himself out with his schedule in 2017, missing the cut in five consecutive events to close the season. He’s hoping the fast start this year will make such a grind unnecessary.
“I’m just checking the boxes so I don’t have to do that again,” he said. “I want to lock up the top 75, then work toward top 25. I played 14 straight events at the end of last year and don’t plan to do that again.”
Gibson wants another shot at the PGA Tour. The 2010 Oklahoma Open champion played in 20 events in 2015-16, making nine cuts and finishing 199th on the money list, losing his PGA Tour status. He figures to be much better the second time around.
“I really feel like if I can get back out there, I’ll be much better for it,” he said. “There’s a lot more distractions on that tour and you’re playing with some heavy hitters, plus it’s tough to learn all the golf courses the first time around. I think the second time I would have a lot more success.”
Notes: Other players with Oklahoma ties in the field this week include fellow Oak Tree National members Will Kropp and Taylor Moore. Also playing are former Tulsan Tag Ridings, former Oklahoma State Cowboy Ed Loar, who finished second last week, and former OSU players Kevin Doughtery and Wyndham Clark.