Northbrook’s Nick Hardy is now a winner on the PGA Tour. He teamed up with a long-time friend, Davis Riley, to capture the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Sunday in Avondale, La. It was the first win on golf’s premier circuit for both of them.
The Zurich Classic is the only team event on the PGA Tour schedule, but the champions receive exempt status on the circuit for two years. That’s especially important for Hardy, who had been using a medical exemption to get into some tournaments.
Last year, on the fourth hole of the final round of the Zurich Classic, Hardy suffered a wrist injury that put him out of action for a month in his rookie PGA season. He had to have a strong finish in the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour playoff series to retain his PGA Tour card for this year.
The pairing with Riley was a spur of the moment thing, but it worked out big-time.
Hardy, who starred at the University of Illinois before turning pro, had planned to partner with another Thomas Detry, another Illini alum.
“Detry got asked by the Ryder Cup captain (Luke Donald) to play with Victor Perez, so the Illini pairing was vanished after that,’’ said Hardy. “A couple or three weeks ago we (Hardy and Riley) texted each other, and we got hooked up then.’’
The two had known each other since being paired in an American Junior Golf Assn. event when Hardy was 14 years old. Hardy is 27 and Davis, who played collegiately at Alabama, is 26.
Hardy became the first Illinois player to win on the PGA Tour since Wheaton’s Kevin Streelman was the Travelers champion at Hartford, Ct., in 2014.
“Once Nick texted me and was looking for a partner I was excited,’’ said Riley. “He’s a good buddy of mine and obviously a real good player. It was a perfect match. We have very similar games. We’re both solid ball strikers.’’
Hardy, who turned pro in 2018, was making his 51st PGA Tour start in the Zurich Classic. He had made 29 of his first 50 cuts and earned $1,688,360 before he and Riley split the $1,242,700 first-place check in the Zurich Classic.
In this wrap-around season, prior to the big win, Hardy had four top-25 finishes, his best being a tie for fifth in the Sanderson Farms tournament in October. He had missed the cut in six of his last eight starts before everything came together in the Zurich Classic.
“I’ve been hitting the ball great all year,’’ said Hardy. “Finally, to get some momentum going into this format with Davis, seeing the ball go in, it’s definitely been nice. The only difference is a little momentum here and there. That’s really all it takes.’’
The Zurich format calls for best ball scoring in the first and third rounds and alternate shot in the second and fourth. The Hardy-Riley team posted a tournament record 30-under-par 258 score for the 72 holes and won by two strokes over the Canadian pairing of Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin.
While Hardy contributed significantly throughout the four days Riley made the key shots on Sunday on back nine par-3s. His tee shot at No. 14 stopped within inches of the cup, leaving Hardy a tap-in for birdie, and Riley holed a putt from off the green for another deuce at No. 17.
They became the 20th and 21st first-time PGA Tour winners at the Zurich Classic, which dates back to 1970. The only PGA Tour event with more first-time champions is the John Deere Classic, Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour stop. The JDC has 23 in 51 years.
Both Hardy and Riley will play in this week’s Mexican Open, where world No. 1 Jon Rahm, winner of the Masters three weeks ago, is the defending champion.