POTOMAC - As the sun set on the Kemper Insurance Open, a lone light remained. The light burned for a small-time, former hockey player from a small-time town, who suddenly find his way to the soft, satisfying glow that is victory.
For Tom Scherrer yesterday, TPC at Avenel turned into a tiny slice of heaven.
Scherrer, 29, began the day at 9-under par, two strokes behind 54-hole leader Steve Lowery. His wife, Jennifer, began the day at a local mall with the couple's 11-month-old child, Tommy Jr., because she was too nervous to watch her husband try to earn his first PGA Tour victory. She did not see his birdie to take the lead on the 14th hole, nor his impressive par saves on 15 or 16, when his drive landed under a television crane.
What she did see was his two-putt par on the 18th hole, giving him $540,000 and a two-shot victory after Lowery found the water on 17. Justin Leonard, Greg Chalmers, Franklin Langham and KazuhikoHosokawajoined Lowery in second place at 11-under.
While his wife fought back tears of joy, Scherrer gave in to the face-stretching smiles that only surface in times of unadulterated achievement.
"I wanted to be able to tell my grandkids that I won on the PGA Tour, and that's [worth more] than the money," said Scherrer, who grew up in Skaneatles, N.Y., just outside Syracuse, and captained his high school hockey team to a state championship. "I wasn't emotional or anything and then I saw my wife ... and I got a little teary-eyed, and having little Tommy there made it very special."
The Kemper light may have first shined on Scherrer in March, however, as the two-time Buy.com Tour winner remembered a lunch at The Players Championship earlier this year. After eating, his eyes and imagination roamed over the glass case where the PGA keeps replicas of the winning trophies for its tournaments, coming to a halt on the prize at the Kemper.
"I remember looking at them," he mused, "[and] I said, 'That's one of the better-looking ones in there,' so here I am a few months later and I've got it."
Along with the crystal, he earned his livelihood - a two-year exemption on the tour, a place in next year's Mercedes Championships and the luxury of knowing that for one week, one tournament, he challenged some of the world's best golfers and won.
"It just means everything," said Jennifer, who has dated Scherrer since high school and married him five years ago. "This is what he's looked forward to his whole life."
Lowery was four feet from ending the dream before it could truly begin on 18, though, when he just missed holing his second shot, which would have forced a playoff. But it was too little, much too late for Lowery, who ripped into the 7,005-yard layout with a 64 on Thursday, but could do no better than a combined 1-under for the final 36 holes.
"It's been an effort for me because I didn't have much time [to recover from last week's rain-extended tournament]," Lowery said. "It's a fine line between winning and not winning when you're right there that close."
The final afternoon slightly resembled a horse race, with several young throroughbreds setting an early pace, only to falter and be caught by a late surge when they could not maintain the lead down the stretch. Chalmers, the baby-faced Australian, snagged the top spot from Lowery with a birdie on the fourth hole, and held it through eight. But after his ball found the creek on nine, he could only manage pars on the back, and watched the field pass him by.
Leonard, whose four previous victories made him the most-seasoned player on the leader board, staged a steady, if unspectacular run, with a kick-in birdie on 4, a 35-foot bomb on 9 and another gimme on 11 to take the lead. It was short-lived though, as an ugly snap-hook on the 12th sealed his fate with a double-bogey 6.
"I made a bad swing at 12 and one at 13," Leonard said. "I'm trying to be aggressive [on the par-5 13th] and get down where I can get a short iron to the green, and I just made a bad swing."
In the end, it was left to Scherrer, the ninth first-time victor at the Kemper, to step back for a second, then knock his ball in. After he successfully traversed the final 12 inches, he didn't pick his ball out of the cup right away. He let it sit there, and turned his head to stare at many of the record 50,000 fans. He soaked in the emotion like water to a washcloth - a washcloth he won't ever wring out.
"It's something I've been dreaming about forever," he said.
"And it's what every little kid tries to do. It's going to change my life, but it's not going to change me."