Matt Dobyns knew exactly where Ben Polland was coming from, in more ways than one. Dobyns, the head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, used to be an assistant at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, as Polland is now. And Dobyns knows final-hole heartbreak, having missed the cut at the U.S. Open last year by one shot.
So as soon as Dobyns turned a two-stroke deficit into a one-stroke victory over Polland Wednesday in the biggest national tournament for club pros, the winner had only encouraging words for the runner-up. "This is going to sting," Dobyns said on the way off the 18th green at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. "But your ceiling is way in the air. Way in the air."
For Wednesday, though, it was Dobyns who was walking on air, making birdie on the 72nd hole after Polland made double-bogey and winning the PGA Professional National Championship for the second time. Dobyns won three years ago in California by a record eight-shot margin, so he knows how it feels to win a laugher and a squeaker.
"It was a lot harder. It was way harder, it was hard to stay focused," Dobyns, a Texas native, said during the awards ceremony. "I didn't think what happened would happen. Ben is super solid. I didn't think I had a chance. It's amazing what two good shots and a little bit of bad luck for Ben can do."
The week had been an emotional one to begin with for Dobyns, who recalled withdrawing from the same event last year when his wife, Laurie, went into labor early. Their son Michael was only 2 pounds, 8 ounces at birth and spent his first 73 days in intensive care. But there he was this year, watching the action, along with his sister Kaitlyn (with whom Laurie was pregnant when Matt won the 2011 Long Island Open).
Polland, who grew up in Minnesota, went through the PGA management program at Campbell University in North Carolina and first came to Long Island as an intern at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, led most of the week and was up by four Wednesday. He still had a two-stroke lead on the 18th tee.
But after Dobyns striped a blast down the middle, Polland's 3-wood found the bank of a fairway bunker, leaving him an awkward stance. "It was sitting about knee height there. I really thought I could get enough club on it to get over the water. It was only about 100 yards and to be honest if it was another foot down, I would have laid up, but I really felt I could get it over," Polland said. "I had a feeling Matt was going to get it close. I just tried to get it up there, but I didn't hit it solid."
Polland hit his second shot into a hazard, took a drop, hit his fourth within 12 feet but missed his bogey putt. Dobyns sank his 3-footer for birdie and was off to accept the Walter Hagen Cup.
There likely will be many more opportunities for Polland, 24. George Zahringer III, one of the top amateurs in the past 30 years and a Deepdale member, said at the Ike Championship Tuesday: "He does everything well. He hits it very, very long. He doesn't make many mistakes, he's got a good short game. Ben has got a tour quality game."
Polland, winner of the 2014 Metropolitan Professional Championship, will have a chance to match his game against the best tour players next month. Along with Dobyns and 18 other top finishers Wednesday, he qualified to play in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. When it was suggested on Golf Channel Wednesday that the trip will be quite a consolation, Polland smiled and said, "Yes, it is."