Lingmerth earns Nicklaus' praise after Memorial victory

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Despite never having won a PGA Tour event before, David Lingmerth mashed his tee shot right down the middle on the final hole of regulation of the Memorial Tournament on Sunday afternoon and made par. Despite facing a more accomplished playoff foe in major champion Justin Rose, he matched his par on the first playoff hole. Despite having lost his only previous playoff at this level, he grittily countered with another par on the next hole.

And despite the enormity of the situation, with tournament host Jack Nicklaus looking on, with a berth in next year's Masters and a three-year PGA Tour exemption at stake, he posted yet another par on the third extra hole.

This one earned him a first career victory.

"I've been in a few playoffs," Lingmerth later offered. "You win some, you lose some. But I didn't feel that it was my turn to lose this time."

For a player who doesn't exactly ooze cockiness, he was simply telling the truth.

The 27-year-old from Tranas, Sweden, looks unassuming at 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, and he doesn't talk a big game. During interviews, he is reserved bordering on shy, polite without being loquacious.

Upon holing his clinching putt, he barely cracked a smile. When a television commentator asked him how it felt to win his first title, a slight grin emerged.

It only served to mask the chaos that must have been rumbling underneath his surface.

"I can't believe it right now," he mustered. "I'm so happy."

If Lingmerth won't exactly pound his chest and boast about his talents, we'll have to rely on an auspicious observer who carefully watched the tournament conclusion and was impressed with what he saw.

"Boy, did he play well coming down the stretch," Nicklaus exclaimed while sitting next to the champion in his post-round interview session. "Even when he hit the ball in trouble, he got out of it pretty good."

At this point, the Golden Bear, the G.O.A.T., the man with 18 majors to his name, broke character.

Instead of speaking to the media as tournament host, he turned to the man sitting to his left and struck up a public conversation.

Without notice, he spoke with him as one golfer to another. Just a guy who loves the game giving credit to someone who'd played it at an impressively high level.

"That pitch you played on 18 in the first playoff was something else," Nicklaus told Lingmerth. "I didn't know how you could even get it inside the bunker and get it on the green and get in there. You almost holed it; you lipped it out of the cup."

Yet again, Lingmerth offered that slight grin, masking his true emotions.

This is a player who'd been ranked 212th in the world entering the week, one who was the third-to-last entrant to claim a spot in the field.

He admitted he'd arrived at Muirfield Village Golf Club thinking less about a win than trying "to put a few nice rounds of golf together."

Now here he was, a champion, just sitting back and listening to the greatest golfer of all-time wax poetic about his golf game.

"It's an honor being here," Lingmerth said, still looking shell-shocked, "and winning is surreal."

As he sat there, basking in the glow of the trophy and the complimentary words of Nicklaus, his wife, Megan, held up her cell phone. On the other line via FaceTime were his parents, watching from Sweden. It was their wedding anniversary and his father's birthday -- and now they had one more reason to celebrate.

Before they hung up, the phone was passed to Nicklaus. He said hello and congratulations and again extolled the virtues of their son's performance down the stretch.

The winners' list at this tournament reads like a who's who of golf royalty over the past four decades. From Nicklaus himself to Tom Watson, Greg Norman to Fred Couples, Ernie Els to Tiger Woods, that list now includes Lingmerth's name.

He won't go down in history as the most memorable champion or the most engaging, but he earned the title for a reason.

Like he said afterward, it wasn't his turn to lose.