“I don’t have enough fingers and toes for that. It’s a lot,” John Balmer said while waiting outside the scoring trailer Sunday afternoon. “If I had to put the over/under at 60, I’d probably say above 60.”
An hour later, when pressed for a number, Potter tried to itemize his resume.
“On the Moonlight Tour, probably 60 one-day events,” he said, searching hard in his memory bank. “On the Hooters Tour, the four-day ones, I think I got 7. The three-day ones, I got 6 or 7.”
For sure, he won twice on the Web.com Tour. Then there’s his first PGA TOUR win in 2012 at The Greenbrier Classic.
No matter how those numbers add up, the latest, biggest and perhaps most surprising win of his career came Sunday at one of golf’s most iconic courses, when he stared down world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and a host of other more recognizable names to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by three strokes.
In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that it was Potter chatting up Clint Eastwood on the 18th green, and then later trying to hold off the tears while putting Sunday’s performance in perspective.
Potter has been a winner at every level. There’s no denying that. It’s just that most of those levels are below the consciousness of the average golf fan – mini-tour events held without publicity or nightly highlights on SportsCenter. Some may call Potter a journeyman, but it’s a journey filled with a lot of success.
All that success seemed to pay dividends at Pebble Beach. He didn’t flinch in the pressure-packed environment of the final group on Sunday. He wasn’t intimidated by Johnson, who counts two of his 17 career wins at Pebble Beach and outdrove Potter by upwards of 50 yards on some tee shots.
No one did.
It was the kind of performance that only winners know how to deliver.
“Definitely it helps to draw back from past experience coming down the stretch,” said Potter, who moved up 102 spots to 15th in FedExCup points. “It doesn’t matter what kind of tournament really it is. … I think I know how to control myself and the nerves.”
Added Balmer: “You cannot replace someone who’s won. It’s so much easier to do it again once you’ve done it. If you’ve never done it, it’s hard to get to that level.
“It’s kind of like holding your breath. If you’ve got to hold it for 10 seconds, you don’t practice for 5 or 4 seconds. You go as deep as you can. For Ted, he’s won at every level – won as a junior, won in high school, won on the mini-tours. He didn't go to college, but he’s won at every conceivable level.”
Yes, but this is the PGA TOUR, the hardest level to win at, filled with the world’s top-ranked golfers. Several of those were in the mix Sunday – besides No. 1 Johnson, there was No. 2 Jon Rahm, who threatened earlier before doing a deep dive (otherwise known as a back-nine 42) into nearby Stillwater Cove; No. 8 Jason Day, who was charging fast until he found the beach with his second shot at 18; and No. 35 Phil Mickelson, a four-time winner who shot a terrific 67 on Sunday after shooting himself in the foot a day earlier with his even-par 72.
Meanwhile, Potter -- who entered the week ranked 246th in the world; he's now a career-best 73 -- put himself in contention with a Saturday 62 at Monterey Peninsula in which he flirted with 59. On Sunday, he proved it wasn’t a fluke, even if others may have thought so.
“I’m sure everybody knew probably going into this tournament Dustin’s probably going to win the golf tournament,” the 34-year-old from Ocala, Florida, said. “So I knew I’m the underdog there. What do I got to lose, really? Just go out there and try to play the best golf I could today and see what happens. Why put more pressure on myself to say I’m playing against the world No. 1?”
In between all that winning, though, Potter has experienced his share of disappointments. Turning pro right out of high school in 2002, he made the Web.com Tour in 2004 – and promptly missed the cut in each of his 24 starts. Back on the Web.com Tour in 2007, he missed the cut 17 times out of 20 starts. Another year on the Web.com Tour in 2010 – missed cuts in 8 of 11 starts.
But with TOUR status in 2012, he won The Greenbrier Classic in a playoff against Troy Kelly (by the way, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were in that field) before simply wearing down. He played too much – “Ted’s a three-week kind of guy,” noted Balmer – and made the cut in just half his starts the next year.
Then he suffered an ankle injury in the summer of 2014 when he slipped off a curb while wearing flip-flops and rolled his ankle to the point that it required surgery. It cost him nearly two years of his career and it still affects him at times, although – he insists – not inside the ropes.
Potter’s been on a strange journey, a rollercoaster one to be sure. He’s still misses too many cuts, so he's seeking consistency, hoping to put himself in contention more often. A little fitness wouldn’t hurt either, his caddie mischeviously suggested. “We just gotta get him in the gym now,” Balmer said with a smile. “Get him to do a few situps.”
For now, Potter will settle for being the latest left-handed golfer to win at Pebble Beach. Mickelson and Potter, in fact, are both natural right-handers. If golf fans had to choose which one would win this week, would Potter have received a single vote? Would anybody have known he was even in the field?
Mickelson said he’s never played with Potter and doesn't know much about his game but added: “I think Pebble Beach and Augusta are left-handed golf courses. I think that’s obvious.”
Augusta, huh? Potter’s got an invite now. Maybe we’ve learned this week not to bet against him.