Luke List claims first win in playoff at Farmers
Baton-twirling super-achievers were everywhere you looked at the Farmers Insurance Open.
There was world No. 1 Jon Rahm, in the hunt despite not really having his ‘A’ game, and former world No. 1 Jason Day spinning a sand wedge into the cup for eagle on 14, and PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris wowing us as usual despite sometimes succumbing to what CBS’s Nick Faldo called the putting “jiggly-wigglies.”
Then there was Luke List, 37, who was off by himself hitting balls. He’d shot 66 and had to wait nearly two hours to see if it was enough for a playoff, which somehow made sense for a guy who has made his living mostly out of the spotlight. Sometimes way out of the spotlight.
“Yeah, it’s a whirlwind,” List said after hitting his third shot to within inches on the first playoff hole, the par-5 18th, to beat Zalatoris as the sun melted over the Pacific. “Still a lot of emotions going through my head, but to get that first win is definitely a relief.”
With his first victory in his 206th career start, List moves to fourth in the FedExCup. It’s been a long and winding road.
The only non-swimmer in a family of collegiate superstars in the pool – parents, sisters – List chose golf. He is a big, broad-shouldered athlete who looks like he just wandered in off a baseball field, possessed of the kind of big game that is beyond the reach of mere mortals. But success was hardly assured. Sure enough, although he starred at Vanderbilt and finished runner-up in the 2004 U.S. Amateur, he had a glaring weaknesses, putting, that held him back as a pro.
At the outset of his career, in 2007, List made four PGA TOUR starts and missed the cut in all four. The next year he played in the European Tour’s Russian Open, which wasn’t going to make much noise Stateside even if he won, but he missed that cut, too.
His athleticism, and smaller victories, kept him going. He won on the Hooters Tour in ’09. He led the driving distance stat when he made it to the Korn Ferry Tour, where he won in 2012. He won again on that circuit at the 2020 Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass, beating Zalatoris, among others in the Return to Golf after a long pandemic break.
Oh, and List also made the FedExCup Playoffs the last six years running.
Still, doubt sometimes crept up on him. Was he ever going to have his moment on TOUR?
“You wonder if it’s ever going to be your turn,” he said.
When it was, Zalatoris missing his birdie attempt to extend the playoff – his ball veering left of the cup, just as his birdie try from the same line had at the end of regulation – List had done it.
His wife, Chloe, 3-year-old daughter, Ryann, and 7-month-old son, Harrison, ran onto the green for a hard-won celebration that only the adults could fully appreciate.
“He won a trophy!” Chloe said, for Ryann has been obsessed with the idea of trophies. She saw one that looked nice at The RSM Classic, and, more importantly, they can hold a lot of candy.
“Yeah, she’s been talking about it for a while,” List said. “I don’t know when it first started.”
There will be those who say that List was bound to win because he’s too talented not to, but his flaw was evident. A superstar from the tee, he got progressively less super as he made his way to the green. He came into the week No. 5 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, but he ranked 208th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Last season he was 13th and 189th, respectively.
Something had to change, and List knew it.
“I hired a new putting coach in the offseason, Stephen Sweeney,” he said. “He’s down in Florida, phenomenal guy. We got together in December, and he was pretty much expecting me to have the worst stroke ever and yips. He got down there, he’s like, ‘Listen, you’re doing what you’re trying to do really well; it’s just not what you should be doing.’
“He opened up my eyes to the proper technique,” List continued, “and I worked my butt off.”
List led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting in the first round at the Farmers Insurance Open. That was new. In the final round, he made four straight front-nine birdies and again gained strokes on the field with his putter. The power hitter won it with his other scoring clubs, too. His holed sand shot on No. 12 set him up for a big finish, his curling, right-to-left birdie putt on No. 18 at the end of regulation.
And after a nearly two-hour range session while others battled on TV, List’s playoff pitching wedge to within inches won it with precious little daylight remaining. He could have sneezed the ball into the hole, which was almost too bad, because while everyone has been focused on Rahm and Patrick Cantlay – with whom List shares a coach, Jamie Mulligan – and the others, List has quietly become an OK putter. He’s quietly done a lot of things.
But that ends now. At long last, Luke List is making serious noise on TOUR, and with much more than his tee shots.