When Keith Mitchell birdied the 13th hole Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Championship at Charlotte's Quail Hollow Golf Club, it pulled him back into a tie with Rory McIlroy in the event's final group.
That's when the 29-year-old graduate of Baylor School and the University of Georgia realized this was an experience unlike any other.
"When I stood on the 14th tee, I looked down at my shirt, and I could see my shirt moving from my heart beating so fast," Mitchell said Monday afternoon. "That's when I was like, 'Holy cow. This is it. This is what I've grown up trying to do.' The hardest part was trying to hit those finesse shots with an open face to those tucked pins to get the up-and-down, and that's the only reason why Rory beat me.
"He got up-and-down on 14 and 15, and I didn't."
McIlroy, the four-time major champion and 19-time winner on the PGA Tour, ended an 18-month drought by claiming his third Wells Fargo title. It was a popular storyline for sure, but it denied Mitchell's bid for a second PGA victory and his first since draining a 15-foot birdie on the final hole of the 2019 Honda Classic to top Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler by a stroke.
While that triumph punched Mitchell's ticket to opportunities such as the 2019 Masters, where he shot a 1-under 287, this past weekend's Wells Fargo was every bit as memorable despite his 1-over 72 Sunday that resulted in a tie for third.
"This was the most pressure I've ever felt," he said. "I was in the last group at a golf course that has held a major championship (2017 PGA) and will hold the Presidents Cup (2022). It's as difficult as a major course, and the wind was gusting. I'm playing with a guy who is easily a Hall of Famer and potentially one of the best players to ever live.
"People now expect me to have a chance. When I won the Honda, I was the underdog. I was still the underdog compared to Rory, but I had a two-shot lead."
Mitchell's Wells Fargo showing, which netted $477,900, came on the heels of a final-round 82 the week before at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida. That 11-over disaster derailed what could have been a top-25 finish and turned it into 69th out of the 69 players who made the cut.
In between the Valspar and Wells Fargo, Mitchell learned that his debacle was the result of a bent putter.
"I was relieved it was my putter and not me, and finding that out kind of freed me up," Mitchell said. "I didn't play well, but I had an excuse, and as a professional golfer, all we look for are excuses because there are so many variables out there.
"You want to blame everything but yourself."
Mitchell was 4-under at the Wells Fargo through two rounds before a blistering 5-under 66 Saturday established a two-stroke advantage entering the final round. He considers Saturday's showing "my best overall round given the circumstances," but it led to a unique Saturday night.
"I slept OK, but I wouldn't say I slept well," Mitchell said. "I felt like every single dream I had that night was about the next day. That was only my second time in a final group on Sunday on the PGA Tour, and it was probably Rory's 35th, so the experience difference there was a lot, and I think it's why he came out on top.
"I think it was more about his experience than his golf game."
The pressure Mitchell felt Sunday lasted right up until the 18th green, when a successful par putt clinched the top-three finish. A bogey would have earned him roughly $145,000 less.
"I knew exactly how much that putt was worth," Mitchell said with a laugh. "It sounds like a lot when you talk about it, and it feels 10 times that much when you're standing over it. That putt won me a lot of FedEx points.
"Every shot means something, no matter if you're winning or not."
Mitchell is having to turn the page from the emotion-packed week, arriving in Dallas on Monday to start preparing for this week's AT&T Byron Nelson Classic.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.