Darrell Kestner one of Long Island's golf treasures
Now everyone else in the golf world has a fresh reminder of what is second nature around here. Long Island is filled with one-of-a-kind golf classics. Just mentioning the name evokes distinction, tradition and stature: Darrell Kestner.
Sure, Bethpage Black is up there, too, and the course did stand tall at the Barclays. But what makes that course, and all of Long Island golf, so cool are the souls who play and work at the game here.
Kestner was one of the biggest stars of the Barclays, the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoff opener, and he never set foot on the first tee. Sunday, while Nick Watney was winning the tournament because of the putting tips Kestner gave him this past week, Kestner was giving lessons on the range at Deepdale Golf Club, where he is director of golf.
He got back in the shop in time to see the finish. "It's an honor," the 59-year-old club pro said. "He is the nicest and most polite tour professional I have ever met in my life. He is the type of guy it would be easy to root for, even if I never had given him a lesson."
A mutual friend who knows a lot about the golf business directed Watney to Kestner, which figures. If you know golf, you know Kestner is annually included in lists of America's best golf instructors. You know he has been a member of the Champions Tour. You know he has won many local tournaments, including back-to-back New York State Opens on Bethpage Black.
You know he has played in major championships in five different decades and won the Long Island PGA title in 1992, 2002 and 2012. (Anyone want to guess who's the favorite for 2022?) You know that Kestner has promoted the careers of many fellow pros, such as Michael Breed, host of "The Golf Fix" on Golf Channel, and Fresh Meadow head pro Matt Dobyns, who won the club pros' national tournament and qualified to play with Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and the other big names at the PGA Championship.
Kestner was there to see Dobyns qualify and was thrilled. The funny thing was, Kestner also played well enough to qualify on his own. At 58, he was the elder statesman in the field at Kiawah Island. But Sunday, Kestner was talking only about Watney: "Seeing him win -- on a great course -- is more exciting for me than qualifying for a major."
The Deepdale pro watched Watney and gave him some putting drills Monday. When the Tour pro returned Saturday, Kestner said, "He was 1,000 percent better."
"I'm learning a little bit about him. He's an amazing club pro," Watney said. "I'm definitely going to keep in touch with Darrell, see him when I can. His approach seems very simple and it makes a lot of sense."
Kestner is from West Virginia originally and likes homespun golf remedies. To get golfers to stop swaying during the putting stroke, he tells them to imagine they are inside a pickle barrel. It generally works (we all should try it). But he wouldn't dare use that with a guy who is playing for the $10 million FedEx Cup, could he? "I absolutely did," Kestner said. It worked again.
The whole weekend was proof that Long Island is full of natural golf resources. Brandt Snedeker, the runner-up on the Black, said, "The golf course was the complete winner this week."
Not so fast. Another winner was the man who was closing up the shop at Deepdale last evening, and heading out with his wife for dinner.