New name, new feel for Wichita Open
With the way this season on the Korn Ferry Tour has gone, Bryan Bigley had so little confidence in his golf game entering this week’s Wichita Open that he had already booked a flight home on Friday night assuming he would miss the cut.
Those plans have since changed, as Bigley finds himself in contention heading into Sunday’s final round at Crestview Country Club. Bigley, who carded a 2-under round of 68 on Saturday, is in a four-way tie for second place at 11-under, 1 stroke behind leader Erik Compton, with a 54-hole total of 199.
Bigley needed a handful of golfers to withdraw earlier this week to even get into the tournament. He entered the week with a 73.9 scoring average, which ranked 150th out of 151 golfers on tour, and he had either missed the cut or withdrawn in 10 of his 12 starts.
“I’m sure there are going to be some nerves, but I don’t really have anything to lose,” Bigley said. “I don’t even know if I’m going to get another start this year; 65th is my best finish, so hopefully we can improve on that. At this point in my career, I’m just trying to catch lightning in a bottle and see what happens. If not, then it’s a learning experience and I’ll be ready for the 2022 Mid-Amateur.”
Since turning pro in 2008, the 34-year-old from Schenectady, N.Y., has registered three top-10 finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour. But his play has been so sporadic this season that he’s actually considered retiring altogether.
“I’m always one bad tournament away from actually hanging it up,” Bigley said.
So what keeps him coming back?
“Stupidity,” Bigley said, laughing. “That’s the definition of being insane, isn’t it? Doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same results?”
In reality, Bigley said despite the scores he’s been registering, he has felt his game isn’t far off from contending. That gut feeling has been rewarded this week in Wichita, as Bigley ranks 16th in greens in regulation and sixth in putts at 1.64 per hole through 54 holes.
Bigley’s light-hearted nature has made him a fan favorite this week, and he said he’s enjoying his third appearance in the tournament. He’s stayed with the same host family all three times and they’ve enjoyed their time together this week, highlighted by a pizza from Angelo’s.
“I’m a New York pizza guy, so I feel like I’m a tough critic,” Bigley said. “But it was phenomenal.”
Bigley’s attitude has changed so much this week that he even booked a flight to Utah for the next stop on the Korn Ferry Tour: the Utah Championship in Farmington, Utah. Bigley will get an automatic start in the tournament if he finishes in the top-25 in Wichita.
“Hopefully I don’t lay an egg now and get bounced outside of the top 25 so I can actually go to Mormon country,” Bigley said.
Another 3-under round of 67 allowed Compton to claim the 54-hole lead going into Sunday. Compton had to scramble seven times in Saturday’s round, but his short game and putter — Compton ranks second in the field with 17 birdies and fourth in 1.61 putts per hole — has catapulted him to the top of the leaderboard.
In six career starts in Wichita, Compton has five top-25 finishes with a runner-up finish in 2004.
“I think everyone feels pressure, and you just have to embrace the pressure,” Compton said. “For me, it’s more of a race against me, not a race against the field. I’ve been doing this a long time and I know (Sunday) will be a battle, and I look forward to it.”
Another golfer who has enjoyed Wichita is Sabastian Cappelen, who won the 2014 Air Capital Classic in his first start on the Korn Ferry Tour. He has played in Wichita the last five years, registered top-10 finishes in four of those tournaments and is the tournament’s all-time money leader.
Cappelen roared back into contention Saturday with eight birdies and a 7-under round of 63 to move into a three-way tie for sixth place at 10-under, 2 strikes behind Compton. If he finishes in a two-way tie for third place, Cappelen can secure a PGA Tour card for next season.
“It doesn’t really change my mindset towards the tournament,” Cappelen said. “It’s always going to be a good course for me, and I want to take advantage of that no matter what position I’m in. But it’s nice to not have to fight to stay alive and be able to fight to get to the next level.”
The top of the leaderboard features 26 golfers within 5 strokes of the lead. Behind Compton (12-under) is a four-way tie for second place at 11-under between Chad Ramey, Kevin Dougherty, Henrik Norlander and Bigley, while Cappelen, Danny Walker and Scottie Scheffler are all tied for sixth place at 10-under.
The par-3 No. 17 continued to be a highlight for players and fans alike.
“You’ve got like 30,000 people out there,” Compton said, laughing. “You’re trying to focus, it’s late in the day, it’s hot. I have to imagine everybody is at max heart rate there.”
Some golfers choose to play to the crowd’s entertainment, like Dougherty, who was coming off an eagle at No. 14 and back-to-back birdies to vault back into contention.
After he planted a shot 15 feet away from the pin, Dougherty raced his caddie down the fairway with the crowd cheering them on.
“My caddie has been talking about caddie races all week and unfortunately no one has wanted to race him, so I told him I would do it,” Dougherty said. “It gets the crowd fired up, so I figured why not do it here? I knew the crowd would love it.”
The No. 17 hole adds to Wichita’s appeal and makes it a memorable stop on tour for the golfers.
“This week has been a blast so far,” Dougherty said. “The crowd is the best of the year, for sure. It feels like a tour event and the golf course is like a tour event. It’s been great.”