Cheered on by family, Eckroat nearly pulls out win at AT&T Byron Nelson

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By Art Stricklin and wire reports

MCKINNEY, Texas – Edmond native and PGA Tour rookie Austin Eckroat likes to play the popular video game MLB: The Show to take his mind off professional golf during tournament weeks.

With Sunday’s career best tie for second in the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship, one shot behind former World No. 1 Jason Day, he got a lot closer to being a part of the permanent PGA Show.

“I didn’t lose it today,” was the first thing he told his wife Sally as he walked off the rainy 18th hole green at the TPC-Craig Ranch course, smiling and waving to the dozens of Oklahoma  fans who made the short trip South across the Texas border to see him play on the PGA Tour in person.

While technically he did not win, as Day captured his first victory after a five-year drought, the final outcome was in doubt until Eckroat’s 18th hole eagle putt to tie Day and force a playoff came up wide on the right side.

He finished with a final round 66 to shoot a four-day total of 266, 22-under-par tand ied with former Players Champions Winner Si Woo Kim and one behind Day at 23-under 265. Eckroat won $845,500, more than his total PGA Tour career prize money combined.

“So many Mothers’ Days Austin would miss because he was playing golf somewhere,” said his mother Natalie who was a part of the large Eckroat crowd at the Byron Nelson.

“To be here with family and see him play so well, is really, really special,” she said.

Eckroat, who won the Class 6A state championships at Edmond North Oklahoma as a freshman and as a senior before an All-America career at Oklahoma State, had his best previous finish, a fifth earlier this spring at Corrales Puntacana which came after six straight missed cuts.

“Really surprised myself with how I felt,” Eckroat said after signing his final-round scorecard. “I really felt like I played well enough to win; it’s just hard to beat a guy that goes out and shoots 9 under. A lot of positives to build off of.

“I looked at hole 9 … 10, 15 guys had a chance to win realistically, and it was crazy. You’re just trying to get up there, and it was fun to get some separation at the end and see if you could get a chance to win, like I did, and it was a really fun battle on the back nine.”

For Eckroat, who began the week at No. 137 on the season-long FedExCup standings, the result marks a seismic shift in his season outlook. He moves to No. 77 on the FedExCup; the top 125 after the FedExCup Fall will be exempt into all 2024 Full-field events on TOUR.

The top 50 after the FedExCup Playoffs will gain access to next year’s Designated events, as well.

Eckroat finished No. 3 on the inaugural PGA TOUR University Ranking in spring 2021, earning direct access to the Korn Ferry Tour, but he entered the 2022 season with conditional status after finishing outside the top 40 at Final Stage of Q-School. He made just two starts before mid-May but found a groove in the late spring and early summer, taking advantage of opportunities to the tune of nine consecutive made cuts, featuring eight top-25s in that span. He earned a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and clinched a TOUR card with a runner-up finish at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance.

The up and down nature of golf left his wife Sally a bundle of nerves as she moved in the large crowds at Criang Ranch  watching her husband on the back nine.

“I’m a lot more nervous out here than he is. He can actually do something about it, I’m just here to watch.”

She said her role during his most successful week as a pro at their budget hotel close to the course was not to talk golf when they were off the golf course and keep things as normal and casual as possible.

“I’ll talk about the latest reality show I’m watching, Real Housewives, which he doesn’t think is proper TV and he’ll be playing his video game MLB: The Show. Last night we just had Chick-fil-A for dinner and also have Taco Bell some of the times, just keep it normal and low key.”

That doesn’t mean Sally comes to the course without a key good luck charm for Oklahoma’s newest PGA Tour member.

“My mom’s earrings are always good luck, so I try to wear those, but mainly just root him on,” she said with a couple of, ‘come on Austin,’ shouts after a missed putt on the 10th hole.

He did not have a single bogey on his final round with birdies on holes 1 and 3, along with holes 12, 14, 16 and 18.

“This puts me in in a lot better spot for the year going forward. It doesn’t lock up my card, or get me in the PGA Championship this week, but it certainly helps me in a lot of ways,” Eckroat said.

“To have so many of my friends and family here was incredible. To be able to win in front of them would have been the ultimate, but I’m very happy and pleased with this week and what it means going forward.”

His next PGA Tour stop will be in two weeks at nearby Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth where he will have another large group of supporters waiting for him again.

Two other Edmond North graduates were in the field. Kevin Tway tied for 11th, shooting 16-under after an 8-under final round of 63, Robert Streb shot 9-under and tied for 67th.


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