Klauk Finds Inner Peace

His Birdie on Final Melwood Open Hole Is Worth $117,000

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 26, 2008; Page E04

As Jeff Klauk stood over one final 12-foot birdie putt yesterday, he kept repeating an expression he has written on an index card to remind himself to "feel quite quiet" during times of intense stress on the golf course.

The moment that putt dove into the cup, his inner sound of silence was replaced by a roar from hundreds in the grandstand overlooking the green at the Country Club at Woodmore. And 20 minutes later, when his closest pursuer, veteran David Mathis, hooked a second shot into the pond down the left side of the 18th fairway, Klauk was able to claim the championship of the Melwood Prince George's County Open, his second career victory on the Nationwide Tour and first since 2003.

" 'I feel quite quiet,' I just kept saying that over and over," Klauk said afterward. "You're just trying to get your body to relax . . . You've got to really trust yourself and believe in yourself, and I've been doing that -- just believe in yourself. Everyone keeps telling me, 'You hit it well enough that you should be on the PGA Tour.' But I hadn't proved it to myself."

With a final-round 69 and a 72-hole total of 12-under-par 276, Klauk held on for a dramatic one-stroke victory over runners-up Mathis (70--277) and early finisher Jeff Brehaut (67--277). Just as important, Klauk almost certainly will now, at age 30, finally be able to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing on the biggest stage in golf next season.

A winner's check of $117,000 pushed him to second in earnings on the Nationwide Tour, with $221,433, and virtually ensured Klauk's top-25 finish on the money list, good for an automatic promotion to the $279 million PGA Tour.

Klauk is one of three sons of Fred Klauk, the longtime course superintendent at TPC Sawgrass, which is owned and operated by the PGA Tour. Klauk has spent his entire five-year pro career on the Nationwide Tour, coming close to making the PGA Tour several times, including his rookie season. He also has recovered from two late-night seizures he suffered during the 2005 season that he now believes were mostly stress related.

"You always want to get to the tour as soon as you can," said Klauk, who takes medication to prevent further problems. "But for me, I don't think it was supposed to happen that way. But if I do go on the tour next year, I feel like I'll be better prepared for it."

He was able to withstand the final-round pressure, including several moments of panic at the 458-yard 16th hole. Klauk had sliced his tee shot into deep rough down the right side and as he walked up the fairway, he saw several people trying to find his golf ball. He had a two-shot lead at that point, but a lost ball on the toughest hole on the course likely would have led to double bogey or worse.

His caddie, Tim Quinn, a rules official, several marshals and a few media members were hunting for the ball for about 60 seconds before Klauk arrived in the area. But he walked straight to where he thought his shot had landed in four-inch rough and, "I found it right away. I guess it was just destined to happen. But I knew it wasn't lost."

Klauk barely missed a 12-footer to save par at 16, then missed an eight-footer at the 386-yard 17th for another bogey that left him tied for the lead with Mathis, playing in the final group just behind him.

At the 564-yard 18th, Klauk's tee shot rolled through the fairway into the first cut of rough, and he hit his second shot with a 17-degree rescue club on a direct line to a hole tucked in the right back corner of the green. His ball took a high hop over a greenside bunker and skittered all the way to the back and down a slope, where tall grass stopped it about two yards from a hazard stake bordering a lake.

From there, Klauk had what he called "a perfect lie, a straightforward chip." His ball skittered just past the flag and rolled out about 12 feet from the hole. With an uphill, right-to-left putt "I've had a thousand times in my life," he said, "I just visualized it going in. It was probably the best putt I hit all week."

Klauk went to the scoring tent and stayed there with his pregnant wife, Shanna, and his three-year-old son Jackson while Mathis played the 18th. Mathis was at 11 under and knew he had to birdie 18 to force a playoff.

He hit his drive into the fairway with a slightly downhill lie, 240 yards to the pin, and he never hesitated going for the green. With a hybrid 2-iron, his shot began hooking immediately, cracked into a tall tree down the left side and caromed into the water. Mathis salvaged par, and could take some consolation. His $57,200 payday pushed him to the top of the Nationwide money list ($223,679).

"I just didn't hit a good shot; what can you do?" said Mathis, who also hit a second shot in the water at the 551-yard No. 6. "But I'm still very, very pleased. There are a lot of positives lately, and I feel like it just keeps getting better and better."

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