Scott McCarron leaned on a secret weapon when he won the Principal Charity Classic last year.
It was a guy who started working as a caddie at Wakonda Club when he was 10 years old. A guy who later became a member, won an Iowa Amateur and a Trans-Mississippi here and knows the ins and outs of this rolling, ageless old-school beauty as well as anyone. A guy who has gone on to become the most accomplished amateur golfer in Iowa history.
“After you’ve played here a thousand times you know which way the ball is going to bounce,” said Mike McCoy of West Des Moines, aka Mr. Secret Weapon.
McCarron was a PGA TOUR Champions rookie last season when he arrived at Wakonda, a course he knew nothing about.
“I got here Tuesday, and it rained and rained,” McCarron said. “The course finally opened up and I played, 1, 2, 3 and maybe 4. Then it started raining again. And then I was in the Wednesday Pro-Am, and I was playing with Mike. I thought, “This is great, at least I can learn it.”
McCarron already knew McCoy through Mark Loomis, a friend of McCoy’s and McCarron’s producer at Fox Sports. McCarron did some analysis on the network’s golf coverage.
McCoy has won the Iowa Amateur six times, including 1995 at Wakonda. He won the Iowa Mid-Amateur six times. He won the 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur, punching his ticket to the 2014 Masters. McCoy is an 11-time Iowa Amateur of the Year and six-time Iowa Senior Amateur of the Year. The crowning achievement came when he was selected to the 2015 Walker Cup team.
So that is the depth of knowledge and success McCarron tapped into when he got to Wakonda.
“(McCoy) was teaching me a lot about off the tees, because there’s a lot of blind shot,” McCarron said. “There’s a lot of shots where, yes, I can hit driver and carry some of those things, but you’ve got to lay back off the tee if you want to hit a full shot because you don’t want to be stuck with a downhill lie. So he was giving me a lot of strategy about what I needed to do to play this golf course. Going around with him was like going around with a seasoned veteran. He was like my caddie for the day, teaching me where to go.”
The next morning, McCoy left town to start preparations for his U.S. Open sectional qualifier in New Jersey five days later. McCarron felt like he needed to play Wakonda again, but he wasn’t scheduled to play in Thursday’s Pro-Am.
And then friend and college roommate at UCLA, Brandt Jobe, mentioned to McCarron that he was looking for a way to get out of playing in Thursday’s Pro-Am. McCarron immediately called Greg Conrad, the Principal Charity Classic’s tournament director.
“I said, ‘Hey, I want to take his spot, let’s work it out,’ ” McCarron recalled. “And they were able to do that and put it together.”
After another look at Wakonda, McCarron went out and shot 68-68-65 to finish one shot in front of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Billy Andrade. McCarron birdied the final three holes, and had just one bogey the entire tournament.
McCoy was keeping track of Sunday’s final round from New Jersey.
“I was thrilled for him, because I knew it meant a lot to him,” McCoy said. “And it was fun that I had a chance to send a day with him.”
It was McCarron’s first victory on the PGA TOUR Champions, and two more have followed. He added the 2016 Dominion Charity Classic and the 2017 Allianz Championship, making eagle on the final hole.
McCarron has had four other Top 10 finishes this season, including a tie for second at the Regions Tradition and a fifth at the Senior PGA Championship in his last two events.
Bernhard Langer won the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship. McCarron is second on the PGA TOUR Champions money list with earnings of $784,351. Langer has more than doubled that.
“Bernhard Langer inspires me every day,” McCarron said. “There are days when I’m like, “I don’t really feel like working out, but I know Langer is probably working out.’ I should probably call him and see if he’s actually working out so I can sit on the couch, eat and watch TV.”
Langer inspires McCarron to dig a little deeper.
“He practices hard,” McCarron said. “He does his homework for golf courses. He’s here early and he doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s tough to beat. I have to play really, really well, and not make many mistakes, to have a chance to beat him.”
Thirty-two of the Top 40 players in the current Charles Schwab Cup standings are in the Principal Charity Classic field. Tom Lehman, who has finished fifth or better in all five of his Principal Charity Classic appearances, and Stephen Ames join Langer and McCarron as 2017 winners in the PGA TOUR Champions. But only McCarron has a secret weapon at Wakonda.
“He gives me more credit than I probably deserve,” McCoy said. “He hit all the shots, and I suspect he’ll do well. Wakonda is a great golf course, but it doesn’t suit everybody. The guys who figure it out, it can be had with the right game plan.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter