Jesse Hutchins, who competed on the Wright State golf team from 1999-2003, picked up his first eGolf tour title over the weekend as he won the HGH Hotels Classic at Rock Barn in Conover, N.C.
After shooting an even-par 72 in the opening round on Wednesday, Hutchins carded follow-up rounds of 66-68-67 to post a 15-under 273 for the title and the event’s $18,000 first-place prize.
The HGM Hotels Classic at Rock Barn was the 15th of 24 events on the 2013 eGolf Professional Tour schedule and was contested on the Robert Trent Jones Jr. Course at Rock Barn Club & Spa.
On Wednesday, Hutchins bogeyed two of his first three holes before rallying to get his opening round back to 1-under par. When area storms moved in, play was suspended for three hours, forcing the 30-year-old to sit and wait out yet another one of Mother Nature’s infamous surprises from the summer of 2013. When play resumed, Hutchins returned to the par-4 fifth (his 14th), and promptly recorded a triple-bogey to fall to 2-over par, all but ending his chances of an under-par round on day one.
“I’ve been horrible coming out of rain delays lately,” joked Hutchins when interviewed after the tournament. “I don’t know what it is. I was hitting it well warming back up, went out there, and just had a disaster on the fifth.”
The brief hiccup would be the last disaster of Hutchins’ week on the award-winning Jones Course.
A second-round 66 easily allowed Hutchins to make the 36-hole cut, while a 4-under 68 on Friday put him at 10-under 206 entering Saturday’s final round—just two shots back of co-leaders Fielding Brewbaker and Will Bowman.
“I was two back going in and I felt good,” said Hutchins, who played in the day’s penultimate threesome. “I’ve been hitting it well this year, so I knew if I could get a couple to drop early, I’d have a chance. I knew I needed something low.”
Pars on his first three holes gave way to a birdie at the par-5 fourth, where a smart second shot left Hutchins with an easy up-and-down for his third.
The first red number opened up the proverbial door, as birdies at Nos. 6, 7 and 9 followed shortly thereafter, thanks to stellar iron play that left docile putts “within his range.”
The 4-under 32 on the outward nine gave Hutchins sole possession of the lead, one shot clear of the field at 14-under par for the week.
After a solid two-putt par on the uphill par-4 10th, the former Web.com Tour player stuck his approach at the par-4 11th to 2 feet, setting up a kick-in birdie that vaulted him to 15-under par, two shots ahead of a handful of players.
“When I hit it to a couple feet on 11 for birdie, I knew that, if I didn’t make any mistakes from there to the house, I’d have a real good chance,” said Hutchins.
From there, the Ohio native grinded out par after par, surviving a near miss on the par-3 15th that would have pushed him to 16-under par when a 37-foot birdie putt was left hanging on the lip.
Pars on 16 and 17 kept Hutchins at 5-under par for the day, and when he notched one more at the par-5 closing hole, he had posted a final-round 67 and a 15-under 273 total in the clubhouse.
“I’ve been working on trying to stay in each shot, and I’ve been doing a good job of it,” said Hutchins when asked of the difficulty in trying to grind out pars over the final seven holes. “There are a few keys that I’ve been working on in my swing, and they paid off down the stretch.”
Ironically, the win marked Hutchins’ first top-10 on the eGolf Tour in just his 16th career start. The veteran player has bounced around a handful of tours through the years, most notably playing on the Web.com Tour in 2010, and competing in the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional—where rounds of 76-71—147 left him one shot shy of making the cut.
Last year, however, he struggled. A few hot starts on the eGolf Tour led to top-25 finishes, but not into contention, as Hutchins dug deep trying to figure out what was missing.
“I struggled last year, no doubt. My game kind of left me, and it started coming around towards the end of last year, especially my ball striking,” he said. “My putting was pretty subpar earlier this year, but here lately, the last two months, I’ve started to roll it better. If I can putt well from inside of 10 feet consistently, I feel like I can be there.”
The $18,000 payday moved Hutchins up to No. 22 on the eGolf Tour’s money list, but more importantly, assured him that his game is ready to compete again on the next level—where he’s hoping to return.
“Lately, every time I tee it up, I feel like I’m right there, and I’m starting to see some results, which is nice,” Hutchins said. “This is big for me. I’ve had a lot of near misses, and those can get to you. This is validation now that I can do it, and that I should be able to do it more going forward.”
During his WSU career, Hutchins compiled a 74.17 round average over 127 rounds, with his top round being a 64 during the Xavier Provident Invitational on Oct. 15, 2002. He shot a 201 during that tournament, which is still a Raider record for a 54-hole score. His 73.22 round average as a senior and 73.41 average as a junior are the top two Wright State single-season averages over the last 24 years.
Wright State won the conference tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament with Hutchins in 2000 and 2003. Individually, he was second at the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament in 2001, Horizon League medalist in 2002 and second at the Horizon League tournament in 2003.