When the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of professional sports in mid-March, the PGA Tour was not immune. Following the conclusion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 8 in Orlando, Florida, golf at its highest level wasn’t played for over three months.
J.T. Poston, a 2011 Hickory High graduate who recently celebrated his 27th birthday, participated in seven events prior to the stoppage. His best performance came in the season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions Jan. 2-5 in Kapalua, Hawaii, where he finished in a tie for 11th after shooting 7-under-par for the tournament.
Poston was unable to replicate that success over the next six events, finishing no better than tied for 30th while missing two cuts, including in the aforementioned Arnold Palmer Invitational. The Players Championship was canceled the following week, as were all additional tournaments throughout March, April and May before play resumed with the Charles Schwab Challenge June 11-14 in Fort Worth, Texas.
“For about the first month (of quarantine) I did not play golf hardly at all. Maybe once a week or so with friends in Sea Island (Georgia) where we were still allowed to play,” said Poston. “I basically treated the break like the offseason that we rarely get. The last three to four weeks of quarantine I got back into the routine of practicing and playing every day, just like I would the week before a big tournament.”
The time off seems to have been beneficial for Poston, who has posted back-to-back top-10 finishes since the PGA Tour returned to action earlier this month. After shooting 11-under to tie for 10th at the Charles Schwab Challenge, he shot 17-under to tie for eighth at last weekend’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“Back-to-back top-10 finishes is a great way to start the restart of our season,” said Poston. “I am very happy with where my game is as a whole, but I still feel very confident that my ball striking can improve, and if it does that may be what can help me get my second win out here on Tour. It’s always a work in progress when it comes to playing well out here, but I am very happy and excited with my results the first two weeks when I feel like I didn’t quite hit the ball as well as I would’ve liked.”
Since earning his PGA Tour card late in the 2016 season, Poston’s confidence has increased tremendously. His first Tour victory came last August when he shot 22-under and went bogey-free over four days to capture the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro.
“There’s definitely a big difference as far as how anyone on Tour feels their rookie year out versus having a few years under their belts,” said Poston. “For me, my rookie year consisted of a lot more travel than I was used to for a full year as well as trying to learn new cities and golf courses, doing all of that and still having to go out and compete and beat the best players in the world.
“It can all be a little intimidating at first, but once you get that first year under your belt and realize that you belong out on that stage in professional golf, it can really free you up to a certain extent and allow you to play some great golf,” he added. “At this point, after playing three and almost four full years on Tour, I am definitely not a veteran by any means, but I feel like I am comfortable and belong at this high level of professional golf, which is very exciting.”
Although having no fans in the grandstands over the past few weeks has created a much different atmosphere than he is used to, Poston feels that the same pressure is still there to play at a high level.
“Not having fans out on the golf course is definitely a little weird at times. Especially when you know you’re playing well on Sunday and might have a chance to win, you usually can feed off of the crowds a little bit and the excitement that surrounds each shot coming down the stretch,” said Poston. “With no fans you don’t have some of that atmosphere, but at the same time you’re still trying to win a golf tournament and the pressure over certain shots and certain putts down the stretch never gets any easier.”
Poston is currently competing in the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut, shooting an even-par 70 in Thursday’s opening round. Coverage of the tournament continues on Golf Channel and CBS throughout the weekend, and Poston is also set to play in the Rocket Mortgage Classic July 2-5 in Detroit, Michigan.