Aaron Wise had prepared himself for a lengthy haul when he left Oregon after his sophomore season to try professional golf.
He came along a few years too late to take a shot at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, which was discontinued in 2012. But with an impressive amateur record that included the 2016 NCAA individual title, Wise, a Lake Elsinore, Calif., native knew it was time to pursue his dream of playing at the sport’s highest level alongside other young guns.
“When they did that, it just kind of made sense for me to start getting the process going,” Wise said. “When you look at so many of the guys like (Jordan) Spieth and Rickie (Fowler) and all of them are so good, it’s because they started playing younger.
“And that’s kind of the blueprint I wanted to follow.”
There are numerous ways to accelerate the process, and Wise did it in style over four days at Crestview Country Club. The punctuation mark came Sunday – three days before Wise’s 21st birthday – as he won the 28th Air Capital Classic by five shots over Beau Hossler with a tournament-record score of 259.
Wise steadied himself on the back nine and carded a 2-under-par 68 in the final round to become the fourth youngest winner in the tour’s 28-year history. He etched his name in the Air Capital record book as the tournament’s youngest winner – nine months ahead of 1993 winner David Duval – and became the first wire-to-wire winner since a 72-hole format was adopted the year of Duval’s triumph at Reflection Ridge.
And after vaulting from 35th to seventh on the Web.com Tour money list with his $112,500 payday, Wise reached a season earnings benchmark that ensures he’ll play on the PGA Tour in 2017-18.
“Pretty cool,” said Wise, whose uneasiness as the leader each of the tournament’s first three days lifted on a comfortable Sunday at Crestview’s North course. “A lot of history to go down and obviously it’s just a really cool feeling and I played great all week.
“None of that surprises me, but it’s great to be in this position.”
For the second straight day, Wise began his round with a six-shot lead. This time, the closest pursuer was Hossler, a 22-year-old who achieved young phenom status by playing in consecutive U.S. Opens as a high school teenager.
Hossler, who got into the field as a Monday qualifier, and tour veteran Jin Park each got within three shots of Wise at various points Sunday. But neither could change his position despite shooting 67s.
“When we were getting around (No.) 9, he was kind of leaking some oil,” said Hossler, a former Texas All-American who earned a spot on the tour for the remainder of the season with his finish. “I was playing well. Jin was playing well.
“Truthfully, if he would have three-putt from the front of the green (at No. 9) – it was a hell of a two-putt – it definitely would have changed things.”
Instead, Wise saved par and headed to Crestview’s friendlier back nine, which he devoured all week. Wise birdied the par-4 11th for the fourth consecutive round. Three holes later, he unleashed the haymaker.
After driving into the right rough at the par-5 14th, Wise steered a brilliant 8-iron from 180 yards to within six feet. Before Hossler two-putted for birdie and Park settled for par, Wise rolled in the eagle putt to move to 21 under and stretched his lead to five.
“When I hit it, I was like, ‘That could be really good,’ ” said Wise, who celebrated the eagle with a fist bump from pro-am partner and Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall. “And then to walk up and see it six feet from the hole was pretty cool.”
Wise sealed the victory with four pars, overcoming a mishit approach he left short at No. 16. By then, the future was gaining additional clarity for Wise, who started the Web.com season with conditional status after winning on the Mackenzie Tour last year.
With firm footing in the Web.com’s top 25, Wise knows the PGA Tour awaits.
“I didn’t want to be 23, right out of college and fresh on the scene,” Wise said. “When I’m 23, I think I want to be in my prime and ready to start winning PGA Tour events.”
Notes – Lawrence’s Chris Thompson shot a 67 and tied for seventh at 13 under, matching his best finish in five Air Capital appearances. The top-25 finish will allow the Monday qualifier and former Kansas golfer to play in this week’s Lincoln Land Charity Championship in Springfield, Ill. … Web.com No. 2 season money leader Andrew Putnam closed the gap on two-time winner Stephan Jaeger by tying for 11th. He is $5,615 behind Jaeger, who tied for 60th in the U.S. Open. … Zach Olsen, the lone amateur in the field, fired a final-round 63. The Oklahoma State product tied for 27th.