The nerves coming down the stretch of a PGA TOUR event never go away – certainly not when you’re in search of your first TOUR win as Nick Hardy and Davis Riley were Sunday.
Conventional wisdom might say it’s easier at a tournament like this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the lone two-man team event on the TOUR schedule. There’s another person to bounce ideas off. An extra set of eyes around the greens. The final-round format of Foursomes only requires each player hit half the shots. That should make it easier, right?
Hardy and Riley disagree.
“Your mind goes a lot of places when you’re not golfing,” Riley said.
“Golfers are control freaks,” Hardy added. “You don’t want to let your partner down.”
There weren’t many sorries exchanged between the two on Sunday. There were plenty of high-fives, fist bumps and hugs, though, as Hardy and Riley fired a final-round 65 to come back from a three-shot deficit and win the Zurich Classic with a tournament-record total of 30-under 258. It’s the only time in tournament history that two players have claimed their first PGA TOUR titles together as a team.
Relatively under the radar for much of the day, Hardy and Riley kept pace on the front nine of TPC Louisiana, making the turn in 2-under. As the overnight leaders – Beau Hossler and Wyndham Clark – failed to separate from the pack and the highly touted team of Sungjae Im and Keith Mitchell sputtered, it was the mostly-unknown duo of Riley and Hardy that steadily climbed the leaderboard.
Admittedly nervous throughout the day – Hardy said he woke up “a wreck” and Riley added he couldn’t contain his thoughts on the back nine – it certainly didn’t show. The second-year TOUR pros played the front nine in 2-under, added a birdie on the 11th and then made birdies on four of the final six holes to win by two shots over Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor.
On the par-3 14th, Riley stuck his 207-yard approach to within inches, a shot Hardy called “the purest 5-iron” he’s ever heard. Riley then made a 33-footer for birdie from the fringe on the par-3 17th that ensured a two-shot advantage heading to 18.
“Any time you’re trying to win a golf tournament, more or less to get your first win is always tough,” Riley said. “You’re going to have to kind of step up there and hit some shots. Fortunately, we were able to kind of execute some really good shots coming down the stretch.”
The two didn’t know it as they walked off the 18th green, but they had all but sealed the win. Moments after their last putt on 18 dropped, Hossler and Clark bogeyed the par-4 16th to drop three shots back. They failed to birdie 17 or 18 and finished solo third.
Hardy and Riley shared a hug outside the scorers’ tent as it became official. Teammates this year, their history goes back much further. They’ve known each other since they were 14 and have played hundreds of golf tournaments together. The duo partnered during the 2014 Wyndham Cup, a junior team event.
It was last year at this event that the young careers of Hardy and Riley took different paths. Riley finished T4, a start of six consecutive top-15 finishes. Hardy, meanwhile, injured his left wrist on the fourth hole of the final round. While Riley was thriving as a rookie, Hardy missed the next six weeks with the injury. Riley made it to the playoffs and finished 36th in the FedExCup; Hardy finished 143rd.
“I was actually in the hospital probably at this point last year. So it’s a lot better place to be at here,” said Hardy, who entered the week 95th in the FedExCup. He’s now 39th. “I just look back to last year now, and we’ve kind of come pretty far.”
Riley has gone through his own struggles since that hot stretch last summer too. Picked by analysts and fans alike to have a breakout 2022-23 season, the University of Alabama alum had not performed up to his standards through 18 events. He missed six cuts, tallied only one top-10 and sat outside the top 70 in the FedExCup (84th). He admitted his expectations led to more pressure, which compounded as he got off to a slow start.
“I haven’t played the golf I really wanted to probably the last four or five months, but I just tried to keep chipping away at it and just tried to get better and better each week,” said Riley, now 33rd in the FedExCup.
Still, there wasn’t much indication a win was coming.
Riley withdrew from the Valero Texas Open and then missed the cut at the RBC Heritage. Hardy missed the cut in six of eight events prior to the Zurich Classic, his only top-25 coming at the Corales Puntacana Championship in March. But both players felt their games were rounding into form. A win didn’t surprise them.
“It always comes a little bit surprisingly, but there’s also — it’s not surprising that we got it done, just because I feel like both of our games are in a good spot and we’re so comfortable around each other, Riley said.
Now the up-and-comers get some much-needed security. Both earn Full-field exempt status through the end of the 2025 season.
They have secured spots in the upcoming PGA Championship and next year’s PLAYERS Championship and Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Oh, and a $1,242,700 paycheck along with 400 FedExCup points apiece.
“To be a winner on TOUR in your second year midway through the season with one of my best friends is really cool,” Riley said. “Hopefully it’s going to open up the floodgates for the both of us.”