James Lepp's return to competitive golf next year won't include a stop at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic.
The 29-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., came up heartbreakingly short of winning the latest installment of the Golf Channel's Big Break reality golf show. One of the prizes is a berth in the 2013 Greenbrier Classic.
The final episode in the series, set at the historic Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, was broadcast Tuesday night and featured an 18-hole, match-play showdown between Lepp and Mark Silvers of the United States. Lepp had the edge heading into the final few holes but Silvers won the final three to steal the match.
As an amateur, Lepp was a junior star and seven-time U.S. college champion whose victories include the 2005 NCAA championship. After turning pro and seemingly destined for the PGA Tour, he won twice on the PGA Tour Canada (formerly Canadian Tour). But he soon shut down his touring career for the most part after getting burned out, turning instead to business. He founded a shoe company called Kikkor, which is based in his hometown.
In an interview this week before the final episode aired, he suggested he'll play competitively more often next year. The Big Break and his entry in the PGA Tour's qualifying tournament, or Q-school, this year were steps back toward competition.
"I do take a lot of confidence from this," Lepp said in the final episode. "I know I'm a good golfer. I know that I can still get better."
Lepp confirmed on a reunion show, aired Tuesday night after the season finale, that he'll "play a little more" next year. "I'm really starting to fall back in love with the game."
Lepp looked like he was on his way to victory after he reeled off three consecutive birdies on the front nine against Silvers. Using deadly accurate iron play, he was 3-up after 13 holes and 2-up after 15. But a wayward drive on the 16th into the water turned the tide. Lepp lost the hole, then Silvers made an eagle on the 17th to draw even and a birdie on the par-three 18th to claim victory, a $50,000 cheque, the Greenbrier Classic berth and other prizes.
Silvers, who has played mostly on mini-tours but qualified for the 2010 U.S. Open, also competed in Q-school after taping the Big Break series. He made it to the final stage and won status on the Web.com Tour for next year.
Despite his runner-up finish, Lepp proved himself a compelling figure. He especially amazed his competitors with his so-called Saucer Pass shot, a hockey-like wrist shot that Lepp uses on tight lies instead of a chip. He also wowed TV viewers, too, apparently. He was voted the most popular player, earning a $5,000 bonus that he decided to split with the 11 other players on the show.
Lepp was hoping to become the latest Canadian Big Break champion. David Byrne won Big Break Indian Wells three seasons ago and Derek Gillespie was the champion of Big Break Prince Edward Island in 2009.