Danny Balin is on his way to the PGA Championship the week after next and, he hopes, a career as a tour pro some time after that. No matter how high he aims, though, he still savors every step on the way, such as winning his second consecutive New York State Open Thursday.
"Maybe it's because I didn't play growing up so I'm not burned out. I love golf, I love everything about it. I enjoy every day, every minute of it," Balin, 31, an assistant pro at Burning Tree Country Club in Connecticut, said after he finished the 54-hole event at Bethpage Black 7 under par, two strokes clear of Andrew Giuliani. He won $17,500.
His lead endured a gray day at the Black that was surprisingly cool, with wind and rain. Balin saved par from a bunker on No. 1 and sank a 25-footer for birdie on No. 2 to go up by four shots. Having seen the margin shrink to one, Balin built a five-shot cushion and held on when he and his pursuer headed back across Round Swamp Road for the tough final stretch. He and Giuliani each shot 1-over-par 72 Thursday, which was solid, given the conditions.
"Bethpage tests all aspects of your game and if you can play well here, you can play well anywhere, pretty much. The rough isn't that high but it's very thick so the ball sits down. I'm sure Oak Hill will be the same way," Balin said, mentioning the course in Rochester on which he will compete against the best in the world.
"Any time you make it to a major as a club pro, it's a dream come true," said the golfer who swept the 2012 local majors: State Open, Met Open and Met PGA.
His peers around here believe he is ready for a national stage (and wouldn't mind seeing him on tour and out of their way). Balin has been to the PGA Tour qualifying school four times and plans to keep trying. As a golfer, he still is just a kid. He was a soccer player who took up golf in his late teens and began playing competitively only nine years ago.
"I think when you look at where Danny came from five or six years ago and where he is now, you see he is as good as anybody on the PGA Tour," said Giuliani, who, like Balin, studies under Old Oaks pro Bobby Heins.
Balin is grateful that his members let him play so much, and dream so big. He sure puts time into it. "It's not like us club pros have much of a life outside of working," the state champ said, "so why not enjoy yourself and get better at your trade."