Before he survived a four-man playoff to win last year's inaugural Web.com LECOM Health Challenge, Rick Lamb had to survive an encounter with one of Peek'n Peak Resort's year-round residents.
He didn't engage in hand-to-hand combat with the fox that presumably scooped up his golf ball from the 12th fairway on the Peak's Lower Course during the Monday qualifier.
But Lamb was left to seek out a Web.com Tour official to obtain a ruling following an unusual incident that, until now, had gone unreported in the wake of his stunning victory.
After considering the evidence, the rules official and Lamb's fellow competitors arrived at a consensus: The fox, which Lamb's group and the official all spotted in the vicinity at the time, had stolen the ball, which was last seen in the center cut of the fairway after Lamb teed off but had disappeared by the time the group reached that part of the hole.
"I got a free drop, played the hole and made birdie, and birdied the last six holes to shoot 63," Lamb said Wednesday during the LECOM Health Challenge Media Day at Peek'n Peak, where he joined tournament and resort officials in previewing this year's event, scheduled for July 6-9.
The favorable ruling seemed to spark Lamb, who arrived at the Peak early last July with conditional status. His rally on the back enabled him to share qualifying medalist honors with David Branshaw. But that wasn't the only happy ending of the week for Lamb.
He fired a course-record 9-under-par 63 on Sunday to get into the playoff, which he won with birdie on the second hole at the par-5 18th.
At the time, he called the victory "life-changing." It took his 2016 Web.com earnings from $0 to $108,000 and, more importantly, positioned him to earn his PGA Tour card, which he did by posting three more Top-20 finishes down the stretch.
So far this season, he hasn't been able to duplicate his Web.com success on the big tour. Through 10 starts, he has made two cuts and earned $21,978. His best finish came in late March at the Puerto Rico Open, where he tied for 60th. He sits 221st on the money list and 224th in the FedEx Cup standings.
"There's been a couple (good) rounds here and there, but I haven't been able to get four solid rounds together," Lamb said. "For some reason I tend to play better golf in the summer. The last couple of years that's kind of been my trend. So I feel like I'm playing good golf, even though the scores aren't quite there yet. It'll come."
Driving to the resort Tuesday night, Lamb said he experienced a rush of deja vu, not unexpected considering what one week last summer in western New York did for his career.
"I had a few flashbacks when I looked up and saw the mountain," said Lamb, 26. "Obviously a lot has happened since that Sunday. It completely changed my travel schedule. It changed my bank account, which is nice. It feels like it's been two years since I've been here, even though it's been nine months, maybe. It's been a bit of a whirlwind."
It remains to be seen whether he will return to defend his title.
PGA Tour rookies face weekly challenges getting into events, so Lamb won't know for awhile whether he is playing in the PGA's Greenbriar Classic in West Virginia or in the LECOM Health Challenge. The tournaments are the same week.
If he does return to the Peak, there will be no more early-week dust-ups with wildlife. Lamb would be exempt from qualifying.
"I'd love to come back," he said. "But we'll have to wait and see."
John Dudley can be reached at 870-1677 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNdudley.
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