Hudson Swafford authors dramatic win at The American Express
It’s been more than five years since David Swafford last watched his son, Hudson, compete on the PGA TOUR. Parkinson’s Disease had made walking the courses too difficult.
But, as Hudson made another spirited rally at PGA West’s Stadium Course, he knew his father was there for the five back-nine birdies and eagle that led to his third PGA TOUR victory.
“He was getting to see me hit good shots in person,” Hudson said Sunday. “It’s been a long time.”
David Swafford passed away on Dec. 6 at the age of 83. But Hudson could feel his father’s presence, looking skyward several times on the back nine. He heard his father’s voice telling him, “Be confident. You’re playing great.”
Hudson shot 31 on PGA West’s final nine – including an eagle at the par-5 16th and birdie on the island-green 17th – to win his second American Express by two shots over Tom Hoge. This win came five years after Hudson earned his first TOUR win at PGA West. That victory earned him an invitation to his first Masters and allowed him to play Augusta National alongside his dad in the weeks leading up to the tournament. The 2017 Masters was the last time David watched his son in person.
This year’s win came on the week that David Swafford would have turned 84.
“I know he was following and watching and to get it done, it was awesome,” Hudson said.
A three-sport athlete in high school, David Swafford fell in love with golf after moving to Tallahassee, Florida. He was known for a smooth backswing, and could often be found playing golf or walking his dogs at his home club, Capital City Country Club.
It was at Capital City where Hudson’s parents and the members gathered to watch Hudson chase down his first PGA TOUR victory. Last month, a wake was held for David in the same clubhouse. David’s bag, which was one of his son’s old staff bags, was displayed in the club’s ballroom. Inside, were hand-written notes David had written about his love of the game.
He passed that love onto his son. He got Hudson his first clubs, a plastic set, when he was 2 years old.
“The first afternoon, I kind of broke the heads off the clubs and he's like, ‘We might be on to something,’” said Hudson, who eventually grew to be 6-foot-4.
Hudson adored his father, and playing golf allowed him to spend even more time alongside him. David would pass along tips until Hudson’s game progressed beyond his father’s ability to help him. But the lessons were about more than the proper grip or address position.
“He taught me everything I know,” Hudson said Sunday. “How to be a dad, how to be a friend, how to be a champion, and how to play golf."
Hudson played like a champion Sunday, especially on a back nine that Pete Dye designed to create wild swings in scoring and elicit excitement. “It’s hang-on-to-your-hat time when you turn back toward the clubhouse,” Dye wrote in his autobiography.
Lee Hodges, a rookie seeking his first win, led most of Sunday, but Swafford took the lead by starting the back nine with three straight birdies. He was two ahead after Hodges made bogey at the par-3 13th, but Swafford gave back a shot back of his own on 15.
Then he slammed the door. He hit a 7-iron to 8 feet on 16, the par-5 known as “San Andreas” because of the deep chasm left of the green, and a birdie at the island 17th. That birdie put him three ahead with one hole remaining.
The final hole was the perfect time for Swafford to make his first par of the back nine. Playing away from the water left of the green, Swafford hit his approach 45 feet right of the hole. He misjudged the birdie putt, leaving himself a 9-footer for par, however. He pumped his fist when that putt fell, knowing that it was enough to keep Tom Hoge, who’d pulled within two with his own birdie at 17, at bay.
It was the second time that Swafford took advantage of Dye’s treacherous closing holes to win at the Stadium Course. He birdied Nos. 15-17 here five years ago.
This was the third PGA TOUR win for Swafford, a 34-year-old Georgia alum. He sandwiched a victory at last season’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in between his two wins at PGA West. He also made an 8-foot putt for par on the final hole of that win.
That win came with just two starts remaining in a major medical extension. He missed nearly two-thirds of his cuts in the remainder of the season, though. The inconsistency was befuddling and led to a difficult decision to part ways with his longtime swing coach. He started working with John Tillery, who also works with fellow Georgia alum Kevin Kisner. Swafford started seeing promising signs but his short game left him unable to capitalize on his improved ballstriking.
A new putter and a slight setup tweak made after Saturday’s third round helped him summon his best in Sunday’s final round and pay tribute to the man who meant so much to him.
“I can never thank him enough,” Hudson said Sunday. Giving him another opportunity to see his son succeed in the game they loved is a start.