Chiarella prepares for Valspar after qualifying | to the 1st PGA Tour event ahead of News, Sports, Jobs
Alex Chiarella has long been in rare air among Maui-born golfers, but the Seabury Hall graduate officially added another notch to his belt on Tuesday when he officially qualified for the PGA Tour Valspar Championship on Monday.
After Monday’s darkness halted the final few groups at the Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brooksville, Fla., Chiarella had to wait until Tuesday morning to ensure his 6-under-66 bogey clear fired Monday was good enough to record one of which is to win the four qualifying spots for the Valspar event, which starts on Thursday.
“I’m very excited, I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to play in a PGA Tour event.” Chiarella announced this by telephone on Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve obviously wanted to do for quite some time. It’s incredible that this is becoming a reality and the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world.”
Chiarella himself was delayed an hour because of the weather with a 10-foot par 18 putt awaiting his finish. He was 6 under at the time and pretty sure that was the number he needed – he made the putt and turned out right as he was one of four players tied at 66 to get the Grab seats without a playoff being required.
“My game felt great, I just got off a mini-tour event called the Bayonet Championship – I played in Monterrey, California a few weeks ago and I won the three-round event.” said Chiarella. “And when people congratulated me – they asked me how I felt about that and I had to remind them that in golf you don’t win very often.
“It’s the only sport where you rarely win. Even the best players in the world rarely win, so winning against good players on a very difficult course – it was windy, it was cold – I think prepared me very well to come back here and gave me the confidence to go well play, and that’s what I did yesterday.”
Chiarella, 28, has made 59 career starts on the Korn Ferry Tour in his three seasons there, has four top-10 finishes and won the 2019 Lethbridge Paradise Canyon Open on the PGA Tour Canada – with just one ball all week – but now he has a new chapter to write.
Maui’s Mark Rolfing, a veteran analyst for The Golf Channel and NBC Sports, said he doesn’t know of any other Maui Interscholastic League graduate who would qualify for a PGA Tour event on Monday.
Rolfing, who is originally from the Midwest, qualified Monday for the Hawaiian Open in the early 1980s, but he said Chiarella’s recent performance is unmatched by any Mauian in the United States “modern era.”
Other Maui golf officials, including Wailea’s Barry Helle, could not recall a Maui-born player who had ever successfully qualified for a PGA Tour event on Monday.
“I played clean golf yesterday and my game felt sharp” said Chiarella. “I hit the ball really well from tee to green and weirdly I didn’t really make a lot of putts so it felt like a very easy 66 if that’s a thing. That doesn’t happen often.”
When Chiarella saw that he was out in the first group at 8 a.m. on Monday, he smiled. Until he looked at the weather forecast.
“When I got that tee time I was excited because you want to go out early, A, in a Monday qualifier, and B because you usually have good weather, good greens and you can play fast, which I like to do – you can yours set your own pace if you’re the first to get started. said Chiarella. “The weather report said the morning wave would not be the good wave – it said there would be thunderstorms, rain and wind all morning and clearing in the afternoon.
“So when I went into the round I didn’t really know if we were going to get 18 holes at the start. Instead we just got a very windy morning. It was very challenging for my lap in the morning but I got it going.”
Then came the first wait for Chiarella.
“I got on hole 18, a very difficult hole, then I usually missed the green and I chipped it to about 10ft for par but when I marked my ball and read my putt they blew the horn for the weather. “ said Chiarella. “So I have to get off the green, go up to the clubhouse and wait about an hour for a 10-foot par putt, which was essentially to qualify for a PGA Tour event.”
Chiarella was sure he was resting on the qualifying number back then.
“Looking at previous years’ results and my knowledge of golf courses and attending Monday qualifiers, I had a very good bias that 66 was at least a playoff.” he said. “I figured 5 under would be sketchy, 6 under would at least put me in a playoff if not clean, which it did.”
Even after he’s walked out and made his last putt, “Then the waiting game began. I had to wait from about 1am until sunset which was 7:40am – so I waited about seven hours with my caddy, I have to say salute to my caddy Andrew Peoples. We call him “Peeps”. He’s a great caddy, make a great friend and at times like these when it’s a stressful waiting game it’s great to have a good pal around so kudos to my boy peeps.”
With one player in the final group at 4-under through 15 holes when darkness fell, the four players in the clubhouse at 6-under had to return to the Southern Hills Plantation Club Tuesday morning should a playoff become necessary.
After the playoff was not needed, Chiarella and Peoples drove an hour to the tournament venue, the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course. He played a practice round there Tuesday and will tee off in Thursday’s opening round at 9:41 a.m. EDT with Carson Young and Trevor Werbylo.
He drove a few more hours Tuesday to prepare for the ultimate prize of playing in a PGA Tour event for the first time.
“I think (Copperhead) suits my game, it’s long, it’s tough — I like really tough golf courses.” said Chiarella. “I prefer that if you go 2-3 under par you can move up the leaderboard and don’t have to shoot 6 or 7 under par to keep up.”
His mother Reta Chin, father Al Chiarella, brother Vince Chiarella and girlfriend Hailey Malin all hopped on planes Tuesday to travel to the event to see Alex make some history for himself and Maui.
Seabury Hall coach Jake Grodzinsky is still one of his closest friends. The golf background he developed in Maui made him the player he is now, Chiarella pointed out.
“I love representing Maui. Growing up in Maui was, in my opinion, the best place I could have ever grown up in.” said Chiarella. “I speak to Jake frequently, I even speak to my high school teammates and close friends Alex Omer and Dylan Murayama. I still visit Maui twice a year and wish it was 10 times a year. So I keep thinking about Maui — it feels good to tell people I’m from Maui, I’m from a small island.”
* Robert Collias can be reached at email@example.com.