If the essential role of a golf pro is to give someone direction and then let them flourish, then it was only natural that Darrell Kestner should be named PGA of America Professional of the Year for 2017. People who know him say he could have won the award just about any year.
There was 2012, for instance, when PGA Tour pro Nick Watney needed help with his putting. While the tour was at Bethpage Black for the Barclays, Watney visited Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset for some lessons with the director of golf.
“I had gone to him at the advice of a friend of both of ours, Sam Reeves. I played Greensboro the week before and didn’t really putt that well. Darrell gave me a lesson on Monday, and then I went back and saw him on Saturday. And I putted just lights out all week,” Watney said, recalling the $1.4-million first prize he took home from Long Island.
“He’s a very, very accomplished player — widely respected around the country. Out here, a lot of guys know of him, and many have seen him,” Watney said, mindful that word circulated on tour that Kestner was chosen Monday from among 28,000 club pros for the PGA’s highest honor. “It’s very well deserved and I am very happy for him.”
Kestner was honored by the association for his 33 years in the profession, which looked good to him after having worked in various jobs in West Virginia coal country. The association cited the fact he is the only club pro since World War II to have competed in major championships in five different decades, and that he has given lessons to Ray Floyd, Nick Price, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred.
Perhaps his greatest contributions, though, were in teaching his assistants how to thrive in the golf business. “Darrell always pushed and encouraged everyone who worked for him. He treats every person he comes in contact with as if they were the only one that counted,” said Jim Morris, a former assistant who is now head pro at National Golf Links of America, considered one of the world’s greatest courses.
“One year, I was interviewing for a head professional job and the board asked me what type of pro I wished to be,” Morris said. “I said that if I were half the person Darrell Kestner is I would consider myself a success.”
Matt Dobyns was an assistant at Deepdale in 2011 when Kestner, mindful that victories help a young pro’s resume, ordered him to work on his game enough to win a tournament. Dobyns won the Long Island Open, and a year later won the first of his two national club pro championships (which Kestner won twice in the 1990s).
“I learned a career’s worth of knowledge from Darrell in my three years at Deepdale,” said Dobyns, now the head pro at Fresh Meadow. Dobyns will never forget the time Kestner received a new pair of pants that did not fit perfectly. “He could have had them hemmed but instead immediately handed them over to me as a gift. They were the nicest pair of pants I ever owned.” They also were the ones he wore for a record-setting win in the 2012 national tournament.
Price, former world No. 1, said of Kestner, “He is an amazing teacher, an amazing player and an amazing members’ pro. The members at Deepdale are extremely lucky to have him and I think they know it.”
Floyd, a Masters and 1986 U.S. Open champion at Shinnecock Hills, said, “The word that comes to mind is ‘consummate.’ He’s a fantastic professional in every aspect.”
The award was officially announced Monday on “The Golf Fix,” the Golf Channel show hosted by Michael Breed, the first assistant Kestner ever hired at Deepdale. The honoree told his former employee, “This is the biggest honor of my career. I’m honored, I’m privileged and I’m humbled by it.”
Jeff Williams contributed to this story
Keith Bowen, East Hampton GC, sixth hole, 171 yards, 7-iron
Michael Schulman, Old Westbury CC Overlook, eighth hole, 167 yards, 6-hybrid
Scott Siegel, Town of Oyster Bay GC, sixth hole, 148 yards, 9-iron
Ian Lindsay, Spring Lake GC, 16th hole, 131 yards, sand wedge
Craig Margolin, Baiting Hollow GC, third hole, 165 yards, 5-iron
Chuck Kelly, Nissequogue GC, 17th hole, 155 yards, 7-iron
Linda Bernstein, Nissequogue GC, sixth hole, 138 yards, 8-iron
David Gary, Tam O’Shanter Club, second, 122 yards, 9-iron
Vinny Stephan, Crab Meadow GC, 13th hole, 187 yards, 5-wood
Larry Frankel, The Hamlet, sixth hole, 178 yards, 23-degree hybrid