Darrell Kestner's experience in the PGA Championship, and he has had plenty of it, tells him that his two star pupils will be just fine this week. Matt Dobyns and Ben Polland do not need to do anything extraordinary, according to the dean of Long Island club pros.
"They have to play their own game. They can't get caught up in watching the world's greatest players. Learn from them, but still, you've got to be yourself,'' said the director of golf at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, who has played in 12 PGAs.
Along with having also played in eight U.S. Opens and winning all the big tournaments in the Metropolitan Section, Kestner is as renowned a teacher as he is a golfer. PGA Tour players come to him for instruction. And he has had a huge impact on people who have worked for him, particularly Polland, his current assistant, and Dobyns, a former assistant who is head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club.
Both men will play among the sport's elite this week at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. The PGA is different from the other major championships in that it guarantees places for the top club pros, who qualify at the PGA Professional National Championship. This year, Dobyns won it and Polland was runner-up, each earning a great opportunity and an intense challenge.
Dobyns will be paired the first two rounds with PGA winner John Daly and Colin Montgomerie. Polland will be paired with Marc Leishman and Kevin Kisner.
"The worst thing you can do is go out there and practice so hard that you wear yourself out. Matt is experienced in that now,'' Kestner said, referring to the fact this will be Dobyns' third major, to Polland's first. "And we have both given that advice to Ben. They went out there for a practice round. I think they can do very well.
"It's their maturity. They've played so much golf that they can handle any kind of adverse situations. Matt and Ben handle their games nicely and don't try to do things they can't do,'' he said. "At that level, so many guys have the physical abilities. Now it's the mental ability to play major championship golf. It's up to them to not get caught up in the moment and be themselves and handle the situation as best they can.''
Ten years ago, when he was 51, Kestner withstood New Jersey's withering heat and humidity and made the cut at the PGA. "That was right here in our section, so I would say that was my favorite,'' he said.
A close second was the 1993 event at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, when Kestner made the first double-eagle in PGA Championship history. "And I played a practice round with Arnold Palmer,'' he said.
Kestner and fellow local pro Ron McDougal were teeing off on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. "All of a sudden this big crowd is forming around us and we're saying what the heck is going on? Then the crowd parts and up walks Arnold Palmer,'' he said. "He says, 'Hey boys, got room for one more?' Ronnie looks at me and whispers, 'Tell him our twosome is filled.' We started laughing and said, 'Absolutely, Mr. Palmer.' We just had the time of our lives. He said, 'Let's have a little skins game. I need a little jet fuel money.' It was a really good time.''
That is the beauty of the PGA, which Dobyns and Polland will experience this week. "The club pros,'' Kestner said, "can be playing with their idols, or future idols.''