Lee McCoy was duped.
When he enrolled at the University of Georgia, he was told the record for individual wins was seven, held by Russell Henley and Chris Kirk.
As his senior season and Georgia career neared the end in May, McCoy needed a win in his last three events to join Kirk and Henley. He got there with victory at the SEC Championships, which also earned McCoy SEC Player of the Year.
Shortly after the tournament ended though, McCoy received the proper information. It turns out Henley won eight events in his time at Georgia.
“I thought I had tied it and had a pretty good shot to break it,” McCoy said. “So that was a little disappointing to hear.”
McCoy never got win number eight, but he did finish his career in May with the best stroke average in school history, the second-most wins, and as the third Georgia golfer named a two-time first team All-American.
As McCoy transitions from Georgia great to PGA Tour hopeful, he’ll chase new numbers as he tries to make it as a professional golfer.
“It’s been such a long time since I haven’t been associated with the University of Georgia, it’s kind of weird to be on the other side of it,” McCoy said.
To the world outside of Athens and Southeastern Conference golf, McCoy made headlines at the Valspar Championship in March 2016, when he became the first amateur to finish in the top-five of a PGA Tour event featuring top players since 1998.
McCoy realized he could compete during his junior year of college, when he won three consecutive individual events.
“When you’re holding the trophy more than rarely, that was sort of a wakeup call that I may not just have the tools but I have what it takes to compete,” McCoy said.
Those close to him saw his talent long before he did.
“(I saw it) back his freshman year,” Georgia head coach Chris Haack said. “His biggest obstacle at that point was just his own self destruction on the golf course. He would break down mentally and get down on himself.”
When McCoy first arrived on campus a few teammates noted the only freshman on the team mostly kept to himself.
“He may have been shy off the golf course, but he wasn’t shy on it. He knew he was good,” former teammate Michael Cromie said.
As McCoy began to collect accolades, teammates also noted a change in his personality. He learned how to take a joke, as teammates constantly tease him for his resemblance to “The Shermanator”, a character from the movie American Pie.
McCoy picked up other monikers, too. Haack calls him a warrior. Greyson Sigg called him “the biggest leader I’ve had on a team.”
As McCoy ventures into the professional ranks, the thing he’ll miss most about Athens won’t be the nightlife or a Saturday in Sanford Stadium. It will be his support group —the Georgia golf fraternity.
McCoy was born in Florida but he essentially came to life in Athens. His father, Terry McCoy, first saw Lee’s love for golf at the age of 3. A few years later, he won the 6-and-under U.S. Kids World Golf Championship.
Terry grew up in Athens and attended the University of Georgia. During Lee’s childhood summers, Terry sent Lee to the Georgia golf camp as a way to improve his game and stay close to family (Lee’s grandparents lived in Athens).
Lee built a strong bond with Haack and his camp experiences led to stellar junior golf performances. It became apparent golf would pay for college and could possibly be his profession.
“It’s all he’s ever wanted to do. I just think it’s great to just find his passion at such an early age and fine tune it,” Terry said.
Given his connection to both Athens and Haack, the college choice was a tap-in. After his time at Georgia, so was his career choice.
As McCoy moves to the professional ranks, he’ll have to chase certain milestones again. To earn a spot on the PGA Tour, McCoy will need to place in the top 125 on the season long money list. Only seven golfers in PGA history have done this out of college. Should he earn 100 FedEx Cup points, which are awarded based on performance at certain tournaments, he’ll earn a spot on the Web.com Tour—the minor leagues to the PGA Tour.
He’ll have only six PGA events to make it. Amateurs get seven exemptions, which gain entry into PGA Tour events. McCoy used one of those exemptions to play in the Valspar Championship. Despite a fourth place finish and $292,000 paycheck, none of it counts towards McCoy’s total. He turned down the money and the points to pursue the Georgia wins record and a national championship.
While McCoy can’t publicly reveal the tournaments he’ll play in, he’ll have his first shot in the Fedex St. Jude Classic, which begins today in Memphis, Tennessee. He’ll also play in the Barracuda Championship and the John Deere Classic, as well as an event in Europe.
His final round of the NCAA tournament was a test run. He wasn’t playing for a team—the Georgia team was eliminated on a tiebreaker— but rather his own reputation.
"I really would have liked to have played that last round with my team but that’s not the hand I got dealt,” McCoy said.
McCoy had a chance to finish second. Had it been a tournament with money on the line he said he would’ve played it safe. But McCoy went for broke and sought win number eight. He finished his last two holes with a bogey and a double bogey, which left him in a tie for sixth.
After McCoy finished his final round, he embraced his coach and his teammates. Haack thanked him for his time at the Georgia and told him he loved him.
The college career of one of the best to play at Georgia was over.
“He won more times in college than Bubba Watson did, and he tied Chris Kirk, so he’s up there for sure,” Sigg said. “You can only compare the stats through college because he’s not up on the big tour yet, so I’d put him up there with anybody.”
When McCoy stands on the tee box in Memphis today, his college accolades won’t matter.
He’s already moved out of Athens and into a new house in Florida. He has sponsorship deals lined up, including Callaway Golf. He’ll no longer have to carry his own bag. He’ll have a caddie.
McCoy will be on his own in a new environment, like he was his freshman year at Georgia. He has a new set of numbers to chase, only this time they’re set in stone. He knows what he has to shoot to accomplish his dream.
“I think the last four years have put him in the position where he’ll have the ability to do this,” Terry said. “I know it’s going to be a rocky road, but if you ask him, he’ll say he can do it.”
“It’s going to be a very busy summer,” Lee said. “But I’m fortunate that it is.”
Lee McCoy was duped.