LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Every year at this time, some people start questioning why there are 20 club pros playing in the same field as the world's greatest golfers who are going about the serious business of trying to win a major championship. The answer is both easy and broad. These 20 guys are here because it helps everyone else who plays golf.
For them, this is really major.
"This gives all the club pros something to work for, to play alongside the greatest players in the game and get their perspective," said Rob Corcoran, a teaching pro at Poxabogue Golf Center in Sagaponack, who will tee off in the PGA Championship here at 9:30 this morning. "Everybody's members and everybody's lesson students are better for it."
So every year, guys who work in pro shops and on driving ranges keep trying and keep dreaming of being right where Corcoran is, at an event that, he said, "has exceeded my greatest expectations."
Club pros know it can get rough on a hard course such as Valhalla Golf Club, this week's site. They know they are not in the same class as Rory McIlroy and the rest of the top tour pros. But still they consider it worthwhile, sweating through the club pro national championship, to finish in the top 20 and make it to the tournament conducted by the PGA of America, their parent organization.
They work all year for this prize. "Even though guys might be tired from teaching all day or merchandising, this gives them incentive to go out and work on their games and to play in tournaments," said Corcoran, who has taught the likes of Jon Bon Jovi's son at the quaint nine-hole public course on the South Fork -- after having been an assistant pro at Spring Lake, Lawrence and Tam O'Shanter.
Corcoran, a Connecticut native who lives in East Hampton, flew down Saturday night and started playing Valhalla Sunday. He has played nine holes every day since, and done extra practice on his short game and on hitting 4-iron tee shots, which he figures he will need on the par-3s.
He was finishing on the back nine Wednesday while Tiger Woods was playing the front, then he was hurrying to get ready for a contestants' dinner. Late Tuesday, he and the other 19 club pros gathered near a bunker on the 13th hole for a group photo. "It was a beautiful background, I can't wait to see how it comes out," he said.
The unquestioned high point of the week, though, was his practice round Tuesday with Jim Furyk, an old friend and former college competitor, along with Rob Sullivan, who is caddying for Corcoran this week. The Long Island pro called the former U.S. Open champion "the nicest guy on the face of the Earth."
"I picked his brain about getting ready for a big tournament, and life on the PGA Tour," Corcoran said. "We talked a lot about Long Island courses he has played: he absolutely loves Shinnecock Hills, and Bethpage Black. And we talked about courses he likes in Westchester."
As much as Corcoran admires what Furyk does, there was more than a little mutual respect. "His father was a club pro, so he knows what the job is like,'' Corcoran said.
Furyk gave Corcoran advice about hitting certain shots and developing practice routines, which will help the Long Island pro. It also eventually will benefit some kid or some senior on the lesson tee at Poxabogue, which is the whole point.