When Nick Taylor triple-bogeyed the 14th hole of his third round at the 2018 Wyndham Championship, his future on the PGA Tour was hanging in the balance. Projecting outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points, Taylor didn’t know where he would playing the next week, let alone the next season.
He wasn’t the only one whose livelihood was on the chopping block.
PGA Tour veteran caddie Jeff Willett was on the bag and had been in the spot before. He had been preparing for weeks.
“We knew that one decent week was going to get the job done,” Willett said of this past summer’s sprint to the finish. “It’s too bad we had to be in that position this year, but we were, and that was the bottom line.”
That triple in the third round came on Sunday morning, as rain pushed Saturday’s finish into a marathon on Sunday. An eventual 70 left Taylor, and Willett, barely inside the top 30, when a higher finish was required. There was no time to sit and reflect as the final round loomed.
“It was really hot, so I was soaked and not hungry,” Willett recalls. “I didn’t want to sit in the air conditioning, so I sat outside… The range session was intense to say the least.”
It hadn’t happened on the weekend for Taylor down the stretch this summer, but it had to happen in that final round. Even Taylor’s coach, Mark McCann, sensed there was tension in Taylor, imploring Willett to keep him loose.
Caddying is more than just providing the club and number; it’s about sensing what a player needs to hear at the right moment. Taylor wasn’t tense, Willett thought, he was intensely focused. After a joke from Willett missed its mark walking down the first fairway, he knew it would be a quiet, professional final round.
“I knew right away that this was a different Nick Taylor,” Willett said. “It didn’t really feel like a golf tournament anymore. It felt like the last round of Q-school and I’ve had a lot of experience at Q-school finals. I swear I didn’t say a word to Nick at all. We didn’t talk unless it was numbers, clubs and reads.”
A clutch par save at the first inspired four straight birdies, vaulting Taylor near the top of the leaderboard and projecting well inside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points. A perfect drive, 4-iron approach and eagle putt at 15 likely sealed it. An unlikely birdie at 18 and a bogey-free 63 in the final round — a T8 finish, his best of the season — officially kept the PGA Tour card in Taylor’s pocket. The celebration after was like winning the tournament itself.
“My whole goal was to make sure he was calm, and that was it,” Willett said of that closing stretch. “When he made that putt on 15, both caddies looked over at me and they knew… It was like we had won the U.S. Open.”
The momentum from that final-round 63 didn’t carry over, as Taylor missed the cut in the first FedEx Cup Playoff event at The Northern Trust. Both he and Willett, however, look to ride the experience from that Sunday in Greensboro to the start of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season.
“Hopefully we can come out in the fall and get the job done early,” Willett says now, reflecting on having his job secure for another season. “When you wait until the last minute, there are a lot of things going through both of our minds. We know where we want to be, but we know where we don’t want to go also.”