By Dan Reardon
The golfers whose names populate this space are players you’ve heard of but know little about. They may be early-round leaders or late finishers who surge into the top 10 on Sunday. Some may have won an event with less name recognition than them, others have been knocking on the door to a PGA Tour win for quite some time. At this point, Kevin Chappell must have raw knuckles from his recent knocks on that door.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, Chappell bogeyed the 72nd hole, allowing Day’s par at the difficult 18th to be enough for his eighth career win. Chappell finished second at Bay Hill at 16-under par.
Last week, at The Players Championship, it was Chappell’s name one rung below Jason Day on the final tote board once again. Chappell, like most of the field, played like lapped cars in a NASCAR race, with little chance to catch Day. He vaulted into ‘contention’ with a long roller-coaster eagle chip at 11. Consecutive birdies at 16 and 17 gave him solo second, four shots back.
In one way, Chappell is the prototypical perennial contender. Even his name leaves him a little short of recognition. Many opt for the French pronunciation, whereas the UCLA grad just uses “chapel.”
Like many of the first-time winners in waiting on the ‘big tour,” Chappell is not a fuzzy-faced youngster first flashing his talents on the big stage. He turned professional in 2008 after leading his Bruins to the NCAA Division I championship, and earning individual honors for himself. He cashed in that win to play in the Memorial for his first taste of the PGA Tour.
He floated as an itinerant professional for two years before full-time status on the Web.com Tour came along in 2010. In April of that year he posted a 20-under total at the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae for his first professional win.
Chappell finished ninth on the money list, punching his ticket to the PGA Tour, a rider’s pass he has successfully renewed for six straight years. That rookie season produced his first brush with greatness. At the Valero Texas Open, playing in the final group on Sunday with Brendan Steele and Cameron Tringale, Chappell was in the hunt until a mental mistake at 17 cost him a chance.
Playing under winnable circumstances left Chappell feeling he was ready to take the next step. “I was surprised by how comfortable I was out there. I felt like I kept my rhythm really well and controlled my nerves fairly well throughout the day and, you know, I guess that’s what I’ll take from it, if I can keep in constant rhythm throughout the day I’ll get the results I want.”
Two years later it was a second to Matt Kuchar at Memorial by two shots. That runner-up showing lifted his confidence for a year that started with seven missed cuts, including five in a row.
Early in the 2016 season he posted yet another second at the RSM Classic, giving him three for the year with half the calendar yet to play out.
If there is a constant in Chappell’s stats, it is around the greens. In the middle of the Tour in scrambling, his putting has betrayed him enough times to keep him outside the top 150. That stat that has plagued him his entire stay on the PGA Tour. Only last year did he rank inside 100 in putting, but 60th is hardly good enough to post wins against the world’s best.
In San Antonio, Chappell was asked about putting himself in position to win without crossing the finish line first. “But, you know, I’m out here trying to win trophies and that’s the ultimate goal and feel like I’m closer.” His life on Tour has mimicked his game, he is getting it close to the hole, just not getting it in.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.