SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Beyond all of the complimentary talk they hear when they compete in the PGA Championship, club pros are proudest of what they don’t hear. Big-time tour pros, who are intensely pursuing a life-changing title, do not confront them in the clubhouse and say, “Who needs you guys?”
“They’re all very cordial to us, saying, hello, what’s up? It’s kind of nice. It makes you feel comfortable,” said Mark Brown, head pro at Tam O’Shanter Club in Brookville, who will be on the tee at 7 Thursday morning, hitting the first shot in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol, one of golf’s biggest tournaments.
It is a delicate balance and a tricky subject, the idea of having 20 club pros in the same locker room, the same field as the best players in the world in one of the professional game’s four most important events. Fans and television networks want to see or showcase familiar names, so some people argue that more tour players and fewer local pros should be included. Then again, the event is conducted by the PGA of America, which is the organization composed of club pros. Shouldn’t they have their fair share?
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson said, “The PGA of America is the club pros that are going to help grow this game. When I think of the PGA Championship, I think about who is going to impact the young kids the most, is it the players or the head pro at a golf course?”
He implied that it is the latter, and local pros say the reception they get from Watson and peers reflects that mindset. Matt Dobyns, head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, said, “We do represent the ground level, the normal PGA professional. There are 27,000 of us and we’re going to represent those people as well as our (local club) memberships. So it’s a lot of responsibility. How many of us should be here? I don’t have an answer to that, but 20 seems like a good number. What we have here, even with the 20 guys, is the strongest field in any major.”
It is a huge reward for the likes of Brown, Dobyns, Deepdale assistant pro Ben Polland and Brad Lardon, who grew up in Huntington and now heads the golf operation at Las Campanas in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And it is an inspiration for the people who come to them for lessons every day.
“Being a home game, it’s kind of cool for them. I’m sure a lot of them are coming down,” said Brown, who is in his sixth PGA but his first so close to his club.
Dobyns said, “What I’d really like it to do is be a point of interest for my membership. It helps build positive energy around our club and that’s part of my job. That’s what I get out of it most.”
Plus, it helps club pros become better golfers. Polland won the Met Open after he played in the PGA at Whistling Straits last year, having seen firsthand the value of short-game practice. “You get to compare your game, learn where you need to work on it, where you can pick up shots,” said the assistant pro who turns 26 Thursday and would like to play on tour. “In general, I saw I was a lot closer than I thought I was.”
The bottom line is that club pros are grateful for the chance and convinced there is a place for them. “Everybody loves an underdog,” Dobyns said. “And it’s just a matter of time before one of us makes it interesting. Who that is and what year it will be I don’t know. But I do believe that at some point one of us will be competitive on the weekend.”
First things first, though. As Brown said, “Hopefully a few of us can make the cut this week and show that we belong out here, that we don’t just fold shirts for a living. We can actually play the game.”
Anil Mani, Tallgrass GC, 17th hole, 189 yards, 3-hybrid
Duane Helkowski (of Syosset), Shadow Creek GC, Las Vegas, fifth hole, 150 yards, 8-iron
Joe Jurgens, Rolling Oaks GC, fourth hole, 102 yards, 7-iron
Robert Schwagerl, Town of Oyster Bay GC, sixth hole, 165 yards, 6-iron
Adam Stein, Town of Oyster Bay GC, sixth hole, 150 yards, 7-iron
John Burns, West Sayville GC, second hole, 143 yards, 7-iron
Alex Bergmann, Woodside Club, 14th hole, 140 yards, 8-iron
Frank Lonigro, Spring Lake GC Sandpiper, sixth hole, 93 yards, 3-wood
Bryan Badolato, Timber Point White, third hole, 136 yards, pitching wedge
Young Mi Lee, Pine Ridge GC, 10th hole, 122 yards, 6-iron
Rich Jones Jr., Pine Ridge GC, 17th hole, 123 yards, 8-iron
Barry Chasan, Great Rock GC, ninth hole, 156 yards, 3-hybrid