The Sanderson Farms Championship is a tournament with its fair share of history. The first edition of this Mississippi-based tournament took place in 1968 when Mac McLendon won the brand new tournament which was known as the Magnolia Classic. Despite being won by popular golfers such as Payne Stewart, Craig Stadler and Fred Funk, the tournament didn’t always have the best cut through with the wider golfing public.
The PGA Tour moved the Sanderson Farms Championship about for several years. It was variously played as an opposite-field event and as part of the Fall Series of tournaments after the Tour Championship before being promoted to a full-strength PGA Tour event in 2019.
2022: Mackenzie Hughes
Mackenzie Hughes was disappointed to miss out on a place in the 2022 Presidents Cup. He was clearly inspired by the action at Quail Hollow though as, just one week later, the Canadian earned his second PGA Tour title. Hughes needed a little bit of match-play golf to win the 2022 Sanderson Farms Championship. Four gruelling rounds at the Country Club of Jackson were not enough to separate Hughes and Sepp Straka and it took two playoff holes for the tournament to be settled.
Hughes had to make up a slight deficit on the final round. He was one shot off the pace set by Mark Hubbard after 54 holes but a round of 69 was enough to haul himself into the playoff. The first extra trip up the 18th hole saw both Hughes and Straka save par before an excellent approach shot separated the two on the second hole. When Straka missed a long birdie putt, the stage was set for Hughes who drained his birdie putt from eight feet.
This was Hughes’ first win on the PGA Tour for six years and he was understandably delighted. “I’m over the moon,” he said. “I had some moments today where I was tested and was able to pull through.” The victory was certainly testament to Hughes’ ability to scramble and get out of trouble as much as his excellent ball striking.
2021: Sam Burns
Sam Burns wasn’t on too many people’s list as one of the unluckiest golfers to miss out on a place on the USA Ryder Cup team. His recent resurgence caught the eye of Steve Stricker though who made a call to Burns personally to tell him that he would not be playing at Whistling Straits. The fact that Burns got a call when Billy Horschel did not hints that the 25 year old is somebody who could feature for the USA in multiple Ryder Cups and President Cups.
Burns certainly looked like a potential star at the Country Club of Jackson when firing in a final round of 67 to win the Sanderson Farms Championship. Burns needed a whole lot of mental strength in addition to his physical and technical skills to edge out Nick Watney and Cameron Young by a single shot in Mississippi.
The back nine charge from the winner was a reminder of why there was so much hype around Burns from a young age. He was the number one junior before choosing to play collegiate golf for Louisiana State. His college career started slowly before bursting into life and with two PGA Tour wins in sixth months it appears that Burns is doing something similar in the pro ranks.
2020: Sergio Garcia
The promotion of the Sanderson Farms Championship to a fully fledged PGA Tour saw a significant uptick in the strength of the field for the 2019 edition. The quality of competitors took another step up in 2020 and in Sergio Garcia we had one of the biggest names to win the tournament since its foundation in 1968.
Garcia may be the biggest star to win the Sanderson Farms Championship for many years but his route to victory was similar to some of those who came before him. Like Sebastian Muñoz, his position on the leaderboard steadily improved over the first three days and like Cameron Champ he had to rally late on to get his hands on the trophy.
The need for a strong finish owed less to any sluggishness on Garcia’s part and more to the brilliance of Peter Malnati. He was not considered to be seriously in contention on the Sunday of the event but a fantastic round of 63 set a clubhouse lead which would last for the best part of two hours. An eagle on the par-five 14th hole was the highlight of several clutch moments for Garcia on the back nine. Garcia knows more about winning than most golfers ever will and he used all of that experience to earn his first win on American soil since the 2017 Masters.
2019: Sebastian Muñoz
The strength in depth at the top level of golf is genuinely frightening for anybody hoping to make it through and compete on the PGA Tour. That depth includes players from all over the world and we can sometimes forget just how many incredibly golfers there are coming from South America. One week after Joaquin Niemann won at the Greenbrier, Sebastian Muñoz did his bit to remind people of the strength of South American golf with his battling win at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
The Colombian entered the final round with a slender lead of just one shot. He did feel as though momentum was on his side though as his scores improved as the week went on with an opening round of 70 giving way to a 67 on Friday and a Saturday 63 which was the best round of anybody all week. Muñoz couldn’t hit those heights on the Sunday of the tournament and had to battle away at the close. It was only a successful birdie putt from 15 feet on his 72nd hole that got him into a playoff with Sungjae Im. From there, a par was enough to win the tournament on the first extra hole.
Muñoz had to show some real mental strength to secure this win. Speaking afterwards he credited Niemann’s win with giving him an extra shot of belief and it was ultimately that belief that gave him the extra per cent to get him over the line for a maiden PGA Tour win.
2018: Cameron Champ
If Ryan Armour set the standard for a stress-free victory in the final round of the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship, Cameron Champ did something very different 12 months on. The precocious 23 year old has all the talent in the world but he is still learning the game at this level and it showed on the Sunday of the event.
Champ’s four-shot lead evaporated on the front nine as the chasing pack – which included Corey Conners, Sam Burns and Carlos Ortiz – sensed frailty in the leader. While some were understandably questioning whether the size of the prize was playing on Champ’s mind, he showed a remarkable mental strength to snap back into gear on the way home. When Champ is in this mood he can tear golf courses up and it showed as he made birdies on five of his last six holes to finish with a flourish.
It was the speed with which he made the chasing pack look like also runs which was most impressive. This was Usain Bolt coming on strong in the last 40 meters or Frankel turning the afterburners on in the final furlong. The job for Champ now is to do this with more regularity and at a higher level. He admitted that nerves played a part in his slow start so the more he can harness that nervous energy and turn it into the sort of golf he showed down the stretch the greater the levels of success he will have in the coming years.
2017: Ryan Armour
Winning for the first time on the PGA Tour is a thrilling experience for every golfer. Well, nearly every golfer. In the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship Ryan Armour had done all of the exciting work over the first three days of play allowing him to have a stress free Sunday en route to a four-shot victory.
Armour, who described the win as, “a big monkey off my back” knew that it would take either an incredible round from one of his competitors or a series of mistakes from himself for him to throw away the tournament. He held a five-shot lead at the 54 hole stage and could afford to lose a shot to Chesson Hadley and still secure a comfortable win.
That is not to say that Armour played poorly on Sunday. His -4 round of 68 was almost a greatest hits compilation for the tournament, summing up everything that he’d done well at the Country Club of Jackson. His play from tee to green was better than almost everybody else in the field while his putting was good enough to gain almost two shots on the field each round. That is a combination to get it done at most courses and certainly at this Mississippi venue and it produced a very happy, very relieved and completely worthy winner.