NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Vanderbilt standout Will Gordon is used to grabbing the headlines. Just not on this stage or on this level.
Gordon, 23, sunk a whopping 27 birdies last week at the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship and dramatically earned a special temporary membership to the PGA Tour for the remainder of the season.
The golfing world took notice.
“I’m just super thankful for the opportunity and I got out here and I felt comfortable (Sunday). I didn’t really feel intimidated,” Gordon told CBS on Sunday. “I was looking at the leaderboard the whole day and that’s something I’ve been trying to practice since I’ve been out here. I think it’s a little bit unrealistic to try to not look at and not know where I stand. The more I can get in the position the closer I’ll be becoming to winning.”
Gordon finished tied for third at the event and now has unlimited sponsor’s exemptions the rest of the season. Before last week the Davidson, North Carolina, product had relied on Monday qualifiers and sponsor’s exemptions to play in PGA Tour events (golfers are only permitted a maximum of six sponsor’s exemptions per season).
Now he’s on his way to the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, Michigan, to try to accrue more FedExCup points toward PGA Tour membership for 2020-2021.
“It just means so much for me and my team – because it’s not just me,” Gordon told WPRT-FM radio in Nashville. “There’s 10-15 people that are really putting everything they have into this operation. We’re super-excited and it’s just been a lot of hard work these last three or four months with so much uncertainty – the timing is unbelievable.”
A 2019 Vanderbilt graduate with a degree in human and organizational development, Gordon was playing on the Mackenzie Tour – Canada to begin the 2019 season. His highest finish on that circuit was a third-place tie in the 1932byBateman Open.
In January he placed 21st at the Farmers Insurance Open and followed that up with a 20th-place standing at the Puerto Rico Open. Gordon also finished tied for 10th at the RSM Classic in Sea Island, Georgia, for his first top-10 career finish giving him four top-21 finishes in eight PGA starts.
Then the golfing – and sports world – came to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And because of that Gordon was running out of options. The Korn Ferry Tour Finals this season was canceled and that circuit was carrying over membership from 2020 to 2021 and not granting PGA Tour cards for top-25 finishers like it traditionally does. For Gordon to make it on the Korn Ferry Tour he would have had to wait until the fall of 2021 to even have a chance to qualify for that tour – meaning 18 months of Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions which, again, are limited.
“It was big let-down at first,” Gordon told WPRT. “I had some very long and hard conversations with some of my team and realized just like life in general, nobody is going to feel sorry for you and you have to go take what you want. So that’s kind of what I rallied around mentally.
“I had the time over the last three months to change some things. Normally you wouldn’t have had that sort of down time to work on some technical things and fundamentals.”
Gordon began his career on West End in impressive fashion by being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and by being honored as a GCAA Freshman All-American. In 2019 Gordon became the SEC’s Player of the Year while finishing with a 69.65 strokes per round average.
He told WPRT that his experiences on the course in Nashville prepared him to compete with the best – like he did last weekend. And it was the camaraderie shown by his teammates during his time at Vandy that has kept his confidence from never wavering.
“Vanderbilt has it all and (head) coach (Scott) Limbaugh has a way of encouraging us to become the best people and players that we can be,” he said.
Gordon started the Travelers with a 66 to immediately put himself in contention. During Friday’s second round he carded a 62 and really turned heads to notice he was in the hunt.
But Saturday’s 71 sent Gordon back down the leaderboard. On Sunday he refocused and kept his composure despite walking the final 18 with one of golf’s legends Phil Mickelson.
“I’ve done that in college before and I know how hard it is to back up a really good score,” Gordon told reporters Sunday about his 71 on Saturday. “I know how to handle that, but I didn’t handle it well (Saturday). So I think when you don’t handle something well, your mind refocuses and I’ve got to do a little better job of backing up that score – but I did a really good job of bouncing back (Sunday).”
As Gordon continues to climb the ranks in professional golf, his biggest takeaway from a whirlwind week that has catapulted his career is that he said he’ll fall back on a simple mantra.
It’s a mantra that carried him through his career as a Commodore.
“Good golf takes care of everything,” he said. “I just have to continue to focus on doing my job and let the rest take care of itself.”