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A Clean Card for Willy Wilcox

A walk-off albatross helps the comeback kid collect his first win since getting sober

By Ryan French

Willy Wilcox struggled with substance abuse for almost 20 years. A little more than two months ago he went to a treatment center to begin the hard work of turning his life around. Now he is beginning a new chapter in his professional golf journey. Wilcox has won more than $2.5 million on the PGA Tour, he has shot a 59 and he has won on the Korn Ferry Tour, and yet on Friday on the Emerald Coast Golf Tour, he pulled off the most important golf achievement of his life: He won a tournament sober. The Emerald Coast Golf Tour is about as far away from the PGA Tour as a player can get, an obscure circuit played across the Southeast. There is no online scoring, the fields and purses are small, the courses non-descript. Today none of that matters, because Wilcox is a winner again. He did it on his own, without the “birdie pills” and the other drugs that fed his addiction.

And he did it in style. On the par-5 closing hole at Holiday Golf Club in Panama City, Fla., Wilcox was 190 yards out and under a tree. He decided on a 5-iron and hit a low punch that bounced toward the hole, rolling and rolling until it disappeared into the cup. “I’ve never had an albatross,” Wilcox told me excitedly after the round. It capped a closing round of 64 that gave him a 7-stroke win over former Korn Ferry winner Michael Arnaud.

“Just holding a big check again means the world to me,” Wilcox said, “and doing it sober means even more.”

Wilcox made the turn with a five-stroke lead, but his tee shot on the 12th hole floated into a tree … and never came down. He would make double, and he followed that with a bogey at 13. Considering the circumstances, and that he was playing his first full event since walking off the course at a Korn Ferry event eight months ago, no one would have been surprised by a late collapse. Instead, Wilcox responded with birdies on 15 and 16, and then the albatross. He finished 17 under after opening with a bogey-free 67 and following that with a 68. 

When Wilcox left that Korn Ferry event, he appeared done with golf and was in the grip of drug addiction. He was at rock bottom. “I didn’t think I would ever play again, let alone win,” he says.

The fight is far from over. Wilcox, 35, knows there will be tough times ahead as he battles to stay clean. But on Friday he accomplished something he can hold on to forever. 

Listen to the full episode of The Grind with Willy Wilcox

5 thoughts on “A Clean Card for Willy Wilcox”

  1. So proud of this guy. Our paths crossed twice when I was his walking scorer in Kansas City a few years apart. The first time was after he had shot 59 the week prior in Utah. I was in awe of his ball striking and imagination. When I was with him a few years later I could tell that something was really wearing on him. And I distinctly remember him dropping out of the Web.com fall playoffs in 2014 for “personal reasons” when, in truth, he had tested positive for weed. It was interesting to hear him tell that story and how the tour testing “only” identified the weed use in his test. It would be great for him and great publicity if the tour would grant him a sponsor’s exemption into an event or two.

  2. Hi,

    Can Ryan French please clarify as to why Willy Wilcox last shot was a “walk off”? That term has been incorrectly used in golf in the past.

    Thank you,
    Kelly Deverell
    Keldev1@cox.net

    1. It was his last shot that ended the tournament. Similar to a walk off home run in baseball that ends the game. It is used to emphasize a sudden and unlikely ending.

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