GREENVILLE, S.C. – In three years as a member of the University of Alabama golf team, Robby Shelton established himself as one of the top players in college golf, and one of the all-time greats in the history of the storied Crimson Tide program. When he turned professional in 2016, the sky was the proverbial limit for the former No. 1-ranked junior golfer, and that vast potential has finally started to come full circle at this week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation. Through 54 holes of play, Shelton has notched rounds of 65-63-65—193 to post 20-under-par, good for a share of the overnight lead alongside Bhavik Patel heading into Sunday’s final round.
Shelton’s week in the South Carolina Upstate began with a 5-under 65 at Furman University Golf Club and a 9-under 63 at The Cliffs Valley, good for a 14-under-par tally through 36 holes and a share of the overnight lead alongside Michael Arnaud and Oscar Fraustro.
At tournament host Thornblade Club on Saturday, Shelton extended his streak of bogey-free holes to 44 with four birdies in his opening eight holes to reach the top of the leaderboard at 18-under overall. On the par-4 18th (his ninth), the 22-year-old recorded his first bogey of the week to fall to 17-under par.
Shelton rebounded shortly thereafter, notching birdies on Nos. 2, 5 and 6 to reach 20-under, where he would finish after parring the final three holes for a 6-under 65.
“Everything is just coming together. I have a really good caddie and we click. That’s been a huge difference,” said Shelton. “Besides that, I’m just finally being patient with myself and feel great over the ball again. I figured something out with my coach in my swing and the putting has been good.”
At Alabama, Shelton immortalized himself as one of the greatest players in school history, earning the 2014 National Freshman of the Year award, a record seven victories, three first-team All-America selections and the program’s all-time career scoring record with a 70.42 average. After turning professional in 2016, he cut his teeth on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada in 2017 during a breakout season that provided his avenue to the Web.com Tour.
“Just playing a schedule up there was nice. Just having a set schedule, being able to know your schedule. It makes a huge difference rather than bouncing around on different tours and stuff. Just playing up there, learning how to put four rounds together was really big for me,” said Shelton. “And then getting a win up there helped my confidence a lot. To win at any level is nice.”
In Canada, Shelton recorded a win at the GolfBC Championship and a pair of runner-up finishes at the Players Cup and Cape Breton Open on his way to six top-10 finishes in just nine starts, thanks in part to 28 of 34 rounds recorded under par.
“Just coming out of college, I was young and played a lot of PGA TOUR events. I felt like I was always rushing, thinking I was behind or holding someone up,” said Shelton, who played in 12 TOUR events in the 13 months after turning pro. “I settled down in Canada and learned how to play. Just carrying my own bag and learning how to play. That has been the biggest thing for me.”
Looking forward to Sunday, Shelton beamed with enthusiasm over the chance to win yet again and prove one more time that he’s indeed ready to be one of golf’s next stars.
“It’s going to be exciting. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while, ever since my last win in Canada and it’s finally here. It should be a lot of fun.”
Patel, who entered 2018 on a Major Medical Extension following a 2017 wrist injury that cut his season short, opened his week with rounds of 66-64 before recording a blistering 9-under 63 at The Cliffs Valley that featured one eagle and nine birdies – five of which came in his opening five holes.
“I hit a bunch of irons off the tee. I was only able to see three holes on this golf course [before today] so on the holes I was indecisive about I just hit 2-iron off the tee,” said Patel. “I did that on the first five holes and was able to hit it close and make the putts.”
Patel was floating around the top five for much of the day before birdieing the par-3 16th and eagling the par-5 17th (thanks to a 20-foot putt) to match Shelton at 20-under. The 27-year-old hit his approach at the par-4 18th to 10 feet, but failed to convert the putt for his 10th birdie of the day.
Patel entered the week at No. 86 on the Web.com Tour money list, with his lone top-10 being a T6 at the El Bosque Mexico Championship by Innova. In 72 career starts on the Web.com Tour, his best finish is a solo runner-up at the 2016 Brasil Champions, with tonight’s share of the lead marking the first of his Tour career.
“I just need to take it one shot at a time. As far as the season goes, it’s kind of been a struggle. I haven’t really made too many cuts and I felt like my game was almost there,” he said. “So, it’s finally cool to see some putts go in. I feel like I’ve been trending in the right direction so it’s cool to finally see some low scores.”
One day after posting a course-record-tying 60 at Thornblade, Arnaud ventured to Furman University Golf Club, where the early going was not nearly as fruitful as the day prior.
Coming off the eighth-lowest round in Web.com Tour history, Arnaud promptly bogeyed his opening hole of the day – the par-4 10th – to fall down the leaderboard and back to earth a bit.
“It was a little sprinkly and drizzly this morning. The course was very wet. I didn’t hit any bad shots, but it just kind of slipped of the clubface,” he said. “Making bogey on the first hole kind of snaps you back into reality and calms you down a little bit, and you can get your day going from there.”
The early blemish turned out to be the only one on Arnaud’s third-round scorecard, as six birdies – including one on his final hole of the day – delivered a round of 5-under 65 and a 19-under-par total. He enters Sunday just one shot back of the co-leaders and in solo-third place.
* Saturday weather: Mostly cloudy with occasional rain showers, High: with rain heavy at times, High: 79, Winds S 5-10 mph.
* This week’s purse is $700,000, with the winner set to collect $126,000.
* The 54-hole cut fell at 8-under 205, with 73 players making it through to Sunday’s fourth and final round of play at Thornblade Club.
* Shelton and Patel’s 20-under 193 total is the lowest opening 54-hole mark on the Web.com Tour since Jonathan Byrd posted the same at the 2017 Web.com Tour Championship. The last eight players to reach 20-under through 54 holes of a Web.com Tour event have gone on to win. The last time a player in that scenario failed to win was in 2014 when Steven Alker reached 20-under par at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft Nabisco before losing in a playoff to Steve Wheatcroft the next day.
* The 20-under 193 total is one off the tournament’s all-time 54-hole scoring record of 21-under 194, set by Mark Anderson in 2013.
* Lowest winning scores in BMW Charity Pro-Am history:
2013: Mark Anderson (27-under 259)
2015: Rod Pampling (25-under 261)
2002: Charles Warren (23-under 264)
* In the 17-year history of the BMW Charity Pro-Am, the 54-hole leader or co-leader has gone on to win the tournament nine times: Charles Warren (2002), Tripp Isenhour (2003), Ryuji Imada (2004), Shane Bertsch (2005), David Mathis (2008), Michael Sim (2009), Mark Anderson (2013), Rod Pampling (2015) and Stephan Jaeger (2017).
* Through 10 events, five 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have gone on to capture a title this year: Sungjae Im, Ben Taylor, Julian Etulain, Sam Burns and Eric Axley.
* The Web.com Tour has produced eight first-time winners this year. With 18 holes to play at Thornblade, there are currently nine players inside the top 10 looking for their first Tour title.
* Dating back to the end of the 2017 season, the Web.com Tour has gone 12 events without a playoff. In BMW Charity Pro-Am history, the tournament has been decided by a playoff four times, with the last occurrence coming in 2012 when Nick Flanagan defeated Cameron Percy in overtime. Those four playoffs have featured eight players, but zero American-born players. Countries represented in prior playoffs include Australia (4), Argentina, Japan, South Africa and South Korea.
Scoring Averages at the par-71 Thornblade Club (host):
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1: 33.125 34.696 68.821
R2: 33.3286 34.964 68.250
R3 33.518 35.286 68.804 68.292
Scoring Averages at the par-72 The Cliffs Valley:
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1: 34.929 34.071 69.000
R2: 35.089 34.821 69.911
R3: 34.839 34.768 69.607 69.506
Scoring Averages at the par-71 Furman University Golf Club:
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1: 33.661 34.964 68.625
R2: 33.607 35.446 69.054
R3: 33.625 35.268 68.893 68.857