He joined the PGA TOUR in 1972 winning the Sahara Invitational in Las Vegas and was later voted the 1972 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year. After two wins in 1973, his game went into a swoon as he did not win again for three years.
But in the 1977 PGA Championship at Pebble Beach, Wadkins regained his form. Beginning the final round six shots behind the leader Wadkins made two front nine eagles but was still five shots behind entering the final nine. When the leader bogeyed five of the first six holes on the back side, Jack Nicklaus bogeyed the 17th to fall out of contention. Wadkins proceeded to birdie 18 for his only birdie of the day to force a tie. The first sudden death playoff for a major championship ensued, but with momentum on his side, Wadkins bested Gene Littler by making a six-foot putt on the third playoff hole.
Wadkins continued to play at a very high level, especially in the majors, finishing second in the U.S. Open in 1986, second in the PGA Championship in 1982, 1984, and 1987, third in The Masters in 1990, 1991 and 1993 and fourth in The Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1984. He won THE PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass in 1979, played on World Cup Teams in 1977, 1984 and 1985 and was named PGA TOUR Player of the Year in 1985.
But Wadkins is perhaps best known as being one of America’s finest ever Ryder Cup players. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams, a record he shares with Billy Casper and Raymond Floyd. His overall record of 20-11-3 ranks just below Billy Casper’s all-time record of 20-10-7 and Arnold Palmer’s 22-8-2.