PALM HARBOR — The lobbying began behind the 18th hole. Lee McCoy, a University of Georgia senior, had just finished 4 under par to place fourth at last year's Valspar Championship. He spotted tournament director Tracy West.
"I asked her if I could come back," McCoy said. "I told her I was hoping to get in on status but if not, do you think you'd have a spot for me? I had to seize the opportunity when it was there."
Rejected for the 2015 tournament, McCoy had to almost beg to get in the field last year. He grew up playing Innisbrook's Copperhead Course and had an impressive resume at Georgia.
West felt he was worthy of one of the eight sponsor's exemptions. McCoy proved her right, becoming the story of the tournament, even besting playing partner Jordan Spieth in the final round by four shots.
"We pretty much told him right away that if you needed it, you'll have a spot," West said.
Good thing. Things haven't gone as planned since.
He did finish his senior year with a bang, winning the SEC medalist and conference player of the year honors. He placed sixth at the NCAA tournament. After graduation, he moved to Jupiter and turned pro.
He missed his first eight cuts on the European and PGA tours. He did make the cut at the Shriners Open in Las Vegas in November, finishing tied for 41st.
"I had a rough stretch of golf at the wrong time," McCoy said. "About 95 percent of the golfers on Tour can have a stretch of five or six weeks of bad golf and recover. But when you only have five or six weeks to secure a Tour card, you have to make it count."
McCoy, 23, left Las Vegas on a red-eye flight to Fort Lauderdale after the tournament. He wanted to get in a practice round at the Plantation Reserve Golf Club before the second round of qualifying school for the Web.com Tour.
He landed at 6 a.m. and on his way to the course got into an accident. He broke his right wrist in two places. Season over.
McCoy needed two months to recover. The Valspar Championship will be his first tournament since Las Vegas. Two weeks ago he narrowly missed qualifying for the Honda Classic in Los Angeles.
He envisioned returning to Innisbrook as a professional with Tour status. Instead, he'll play on a sponsor's exemption.
"If you've got a reset button laying around, I'd love to push it," McCoy said.
Unless he wins or places as high as he did last year, he plays events only on a sponsor's exemption or Monday qualifying. This week, he hopes to catch lightning in a bottle one more time.
"It's nice just playing the pro-am and then knowing you're in," McCoy said. "But I've got to play well here. I've got to top 10 or top five. But more than anything I'm going to enjoy the week. This is one of my favorite courses in the world."