By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Tye Chandler did not have much thinking to do back at the end of May when he learned he had torn his labrum and needed hip surgery.
It was one thing for reigning YETI World Champion Smooth Operator to slam him to the ground despite turning into his riding hand, but it was another for a long-round bull to do the same thing in Guthrie, Oklahoma, a week later.
Chandler was barely able to walk by the end of the three privately held Unleash The Beast events in April/May in Guthrie, Oklahoma, at the Lazy E Arena, and he figured his chances at qualifying for the 2020 World Finals were in serious jeopardy with hip surgery on the horizon.
Chandler was told that if he wanted to try to grit out the remainder of the 2020 season, he could rely on therapy and still try to qualify for his first PBR World Finals. There was the risk, of course, that his injuries could be worse.
“I was like, ‘It can’t get worse, I can’t ride bulls into my hand,’” Chandler told PBR.com this week with a laugh. “That is a gimme that I had to get it fixed.”
Chandler was the No. 24-ranked bull rider in the world at the end of the first half, and he was unsure of when doctors would clear him to return from his hip surgery, and of how far he could potentially drop in the world standings. He figured he may not drop too far over the summer months with the lack of Touring Pro Division events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he also knew the PBR was committed to ramping up the second-half UTB schedule come August. He also was hopeful he could speed up his recovery and return to the Unleash The Beast before the regular season ended.
“Man, I honestly didn’t think the recovery time was going to be as long as it has been,” Chandler admitted. “Once I got into the recovery at the end of June, I kind of thought the Finals was out of the picture.”
Chandler, though, kept an eye on the PBR world standings as his recovery continued to slowly progress. Four weeks on crutches transitioned to being cleared to walking, and then by around 12 to 14 weeks Chandler was starting to run again.
But was a run at the World Finals even a possibility?
It turns out the 2020 World Finals on Nov. 12-15 in Arlington, Texas, is now very much a reality for Chandler.
Chandler has only fallen to No. 35 in the world standings, and he is cleared to compete at the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Nov. 6-7. In fact, because of injuries, travel restrictions and other circumstances, there are at least five riders above Chandler that will not be competing at the World Finals. So Chandler is an unofficial No. 30 among healthy riders or those expected to compete in Arlington.
Therefore, Chandler is very likely riding at the PBR World Finals in three weeks, but don’t count on him being OK with backing into a World Finals qualification.
Chandler has every intention of getting to Arlington ranked inside the Top 35, officially, and potentially winning the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour championship and its $35,000 bonus. Finishing the year inside the Top 35 would also net him an official PBR World Finals qualification ring.
In regards to the Velocity Tour, Chandler is ranked No. 6 in the PBR’s developmental/expansion tour, and he is only 14.5 points behind Velocity No. 1 Jose Vitor Leme.
“Absolutely. I am going there to not only win, but to keep my (Top 35) spot where I am at,” Chandler said. “I am there to win the Velocity Tour championship. I have a chance to win it, too.”
Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals Standings
1. Jose Vitor Leme (84 points)
2. Wallace de Oliveira (-7.84 points)
3. Fabiano Vieira (-11 points)*
4. Cody Campbell (-12 points)
5. Mauricio Moreira (-12.67 points)
6. Tye Chandler (-14.5 points)
One rider can earn a maximum of 105 points at the Velocity Finals; fifteen points for a round win, and 60 for winning the event average.
The field in Sioux Falls is going to be fierce and stacked, and it will rival the best regular-season UTB draws. Twenty of the Top 35 riders in the world tentatively expect to compete at the Velocity Tour Finals inside the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center.
RidePass is the exclusive television home for the Velocity Tour, and fans will not miss the final event before the World Finals.
Chandler is 8-for-50 (16%) in his premier series career since making his debut on January 26, 2018, in Sacramento, California.
The Celina, Texas, native has never finished higher than 51st in the world standings, and he is set to ride at his first World Finals despite that hip surgery.
“Oh, man, it is exciting,” Chandler said with an exhale of relief. “This will be my first Finals. I was kind of bummed when I told you that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it, because the first year I got on tour I ended up getting hurt halfway through the season and I wasn’t able to finish that season off. Last season was just a bunch of injuries piling up on me. Then I get healthy again, and I separated my shoulder this year at the second event and had to sit out eight weeks. Then I came back and made it back on tour and was riding really good. Then my hip. I was like, ‘Man. Things weren’t going my way.’
“But God has a plan, and it ended up working out.”
Chandler has yet to get on any practice bulls, but he said he is going to wear himself out in the days leading up to Sioux Falls if that is what it takes to make sure he is ready.
He is not going to waste the opportunity to make his lifelong dream a reality of riding at the PBR World Finals. It is a journey that even involved Chandler being a 13-year-old bull rider with a wild free arm showing up at J.W. Hart’s ranch in search of advice, and one that 12 years later may see its payoff.
Chandler says he would expect around 10 to 12 family members and friends to make the 50-mile journey to AT&T Stadium from Celina, Texas, on Nov. 12. He last competed at the stadium in 2018 at the PBR’s Iron Cowboy.
The unexpected opportunity to ride at his first Finals this year has given Chandler that much more of a belief that he can be a consistent World Finals qualifier in the future as well.
“It is cool being home, and it will be a lot of fun having the Finals in my home state,” Chandler said. “All of my close family will go. This gives me confidence knowing I was that high up in the standings earlier in the season. The tour was still going, and I still qualified. I feel like I can be a Top-10 rider with a full healthy season.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andre Silva/Bull Stock Media
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