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Kyle Flinton
Oklahoma's Kyle Flinton overcame a rough start to stay high on the leaderboard. (Photo: The PGA of America)

'Team' Sheftic grabs halfway lead by keeping the nerves away

Mark Sheftic of Pennsylvania calmly took over the top spot on Monday with a 3-under 68 he said was largely due to the input he received from his family and advisors. Kyle Flinton, who finished third a year ago, is alone in second, with Ryan Garrity in third. Kevin Roman and Chip Johnson share fourth place as a total of 87 players made the 36-hole cut of 2-over-par 144.

By Bob Denney, PGA.com Contributor

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. -- Mark Sheftic may have looked calm while strolling the fairways of Twin Warriors Golf Club Monday, cruising to a 3-under-par 68 and vaulting atop the leaderboard in the biggest event he’s ever entered -- the 42nd PGA Professional National Championship.

The truth is that there were echoes swirling about Sheftic’s head.

The 34-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at legendary Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., ticked off the names of “Team Sheftic” as if they all were invisible caddies on his bag.

His father, PGA Professional Ted Sheftic, is his swing coach. PGA Professional Roy Pace is a past advisor; his mom, Tomalee, is his MVP; and sports psychologists Lynn Marriott and Pia Nilsson collective words of wisdom have helped him “stay within the moment.”

Sheftic’s moment in the spotlight might last longer if he can replicate his second-round performance that gave him a 36-hole total of 7-under-par 135 in the showcase event for PGA Professionals. He owns a one-stroke advantage over Kyle Flinton of Oklahoma City, Okla., who had a 69 in his bid to better a third-place finish in the Championship a year ago.

Ryan Garrity of Jupiter, Fla., turning in a 67, was next at 137. Kevin Roman of Roswell, Ga., who fired a 66, and Chip Johnson of Hingham, Mass., who had a 67, share fourth at 138.

“My dad, mom, coaches, they all have helped me in many ways,” said Sheftic, who offset a bogey on the third hole with four birdies. “I have been hitting the ball well, and am making good decisions so far. I’m driving the ball the best I’ve ever hit it. So, if you’re hitting fairways and put yourself in good position, and you’re building confidence.

“The key for me is keeping the nerves away,” he explained. “That’s going to be the key for me, being in the lead for the first time in a big event like this and with a lot on the line.”

Defending Champion Scott Hebert of Traverse City, Mich., the first-round leader, slumped to a 76 and was seven strokes off the pace.

There were 87 players making the 36-hole cut of 2-over-par 144, joining the chase for the Walter Hagen Cup over the final two rounds at Twin Warriors Golf Club.

The day’s most dramatic turn of events included Grant Sturgeon’s bid to make the cut. Sturgeon began the Championship with a 79 on Sunday, but shook that off quickly. The 30-year-old PGA assistant professional at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club made a hole-in-one on the 179-yard sixth hole at nearby Santa Ana Golf Club on his way to a 6-under-par 65, the best round of the Championship and land on the cut line at 144.

Sheftic said his game got a boost from a lesson from his father, the PGA Director of Instruction at the Ted Sheftic Golf Learning Center in New Oxford, Pa.

“The most recent lesson I had was about two months ago with my dad,” said Sheftic. “He made just a little change in my swing and it made all the difference.”

Sheftic began play on the 10th hole at Twin Warriors and displayed what he remembered from his lesson. He split the fairways and had his short game in tune. He knocked home a 40-foot uphill, left-to-right birdie putt on the 15th hole and capped his day by hitting a 5-iron approach on the rugged 498-yard eighth hole (his 17th) to within three inches of the hole.

His only miscue was a poor drive on the third hole that led to a bogey.

“I don’t think any one thing sparked me today; just being here is a spark,” said Sheftic. “I got my Class A membership in 2008, and had talked to other guys in the Section, and they all said that this is a tournament that is run first-class all the way. So, just being here sort of gets you on a high.”

Flinton, the PGA head professional at Quail Creek Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City, had four birdies and two bogeys at Santa Ana Golf Club, to go with two bogeys.

"I got off to a rough start this morning, “said Flinton, a three-time national PGA Assistant Champion. “Tracy [his wife and caddie] kept saying, ‘Calm down; settle down, it will happen.’ Then I made a 60-foot bomb on 4 from the left side of the green to the back right and that kind of got me calmed down.”

Flinton was confident about whatever weather conditions he faces the rest of the way in the Championship.

“I don’t care if it blows 50 miles per hour and rains more tomorrow,” he said, “I feel 10 times more comfortable at that course than I do here. This course does not suit me.”

The 42nd PGA Professional National Championship features a $550,000 purse, and began with a field of 312 players representing 43 states and 41 PGA Sections. The low 20 scorers earn a berth in the 91st PGA Championship, Aug. 13-16, at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

The United States PGA Cup Team also will be determined following Wednesday’s final round, with the top 10 point-winners over a two-year period gaining a berth to face Great Britain & Ireland, Sept. 18-20, in Loch Lomond, Scotland.

Established in 1968, The PGA Professional National Championship roster of Champions includes past and present Tour professionals: Sam Snead, Bob Rosburg, Don Massengale, Ed Dougherty, Larry Gilbert, Bruce Fleisher and Bob Sowards.

The PGA Professional National Championship is presented by Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra; and Club Car. Golf Channel is an exclusive media partner, and the PGA Tour is the Supporting Sponsor of PGA of America Member Championships. The 41 Section Championships and the National Championship offer a combined purse of $1.5 million.

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By establishing and elevating the standards of the golf profession through world-class education, career services, marketing and research programs, the Association enables PGA Professionals to maximize their performance in their respective career paths and showcases them as experts in the game and in the multi-billion golf industry.

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