Keith Dicciani (shown) and his future father-in-law, Craig Thomas, both punched their tickets to Hazeltine on Wednesday. (Photo: The PGA of America)
Scene and Heard: Notes and impressions from the final round
Mark Sheftic tells PGA.com's T.J. Auclair how, despite falling just short, he enjoyed a phenomenal week. Plus, Grant Sturgeon wraps up an incredible week of his own, Craig Thomas and Keith Dicciani will spend some more quality time together, and more.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. -- Mark Sheftic’s first experience in the PGA Professional National Championship was certainly one that he won’t soon forget.
The 34-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., entered the final round on Wednesday with a two-shot lead. That lead disappeared after back-to-back birdies on Nos. 6 and 7, but the feisty Sheftic bounced back with consecutive birdies at Nos. 11 and 12.
All day on Wednesday, Sheftic was fighting with his putter, a battle he would eventually lose. He found himself in a three-way tie for the lead at 7 under with Mike Small and Steve Schneiter after a bogey at No. 16.
With Small in the house at 7 under after a par on No. 18, Scheftic needed a birdie to win, or a par to secure a spot in a playoff.
From the middle of the fairway, 167 yards from the hole, Sheftic striped an 8-iron that was making a beeline at the pin. Unfortunately, though, he hit this particular approach too good. It dropped about 10 feet over the top of the pin and released down the hill in the back right corner of the green before rolling down into the fringe.
That meant Scheftic was 25 feet and two shots away from a playoff. Instead, it took three shots.
“I hit it perfect,” Sheftic said, referring to the approach. “I couldn’t hit a better shot, it was just the wrong club. I had a little difficult chip shot there and the nerves got to me maybe a little bit there. I didn’t quite react the way I wanted to.”
Sheftic’s chip missed the crest of the mound in the green and stopped about 8 feet short of the hole, setting up a less-than-comfortable par putt to extend the tournament.
When the par putt missed the cup on the left edge, Sheftic tapped in for bogey and a 2-over 73 to tie for second with Schneiter.
“I putted really bad today,” he said. “I missed a lot of short putts. I’m not taking anything away from Mike -- he played a phenomenal round of golf, 3 under par, that was a great job. But my putter really let me down on the last day.”
Sheftic was certainly disappointed to have come so close to winning only to fall short, but his spirits were just fine. After all, for him the silver lining is the fact that he’s earned a spot in the PGA Championship and will be a member of the 2009 U.S. PGA Cup team that will compete in Scotland this fall.
“You listen to what a lot of the best players in the world say -- it’s all about nerves,” Sheftic said. “Even though the nerves make you scared, or make you timid, it’s also the best feeling in the world, because you’re in contention.
“Look, this is my first attempt in this, I had a putt, I had a chance to win the National Championship for club pros and I finished second, so I’m playing in the PGA Championship now -- that’s not too shabby -- and, like I said, it’s a phenomenal experience.”
An experience Sheftic hopes will serve him well going forward.
“You try your best and hopefully this will just help me prepare for the PGA and hopefully I’ll be here again and get myself in this position again,” he said.
MR. INCREDIBLE: If you like an underdog story, then you’ve got to love Grant Sturgeon.
Sturgeon was making his National Championship debut this week, and it looked like he would be headed home early after an 8-under 79 at Twin Warriors in the first round.
“I called the airlines to check and see how much it was to change the flights to go home two days early and luckily it was $1,000 so I didn’t change them,” Sturgeon said.
Turns out he didn’t need to. Sturgeon fired a tournament-best 6-under 65 at Santa Ana on Monday in a remarkable round that included a hole-in-one and a birdie on his final hole for a back-nine 30 to make the cut on the number at 2-over 144.
From there, Sturgeon corrected that 79 at Twin Warriors with scores of 67-69 in the final two rounds to finish in a tie for eighth at 4 under. He played the first 27 holes of the National Championship in 8 over and the final 45 holes in 12 under.
“I wanted to show I was a better golfer than the 79 I shot on Sunday,” Sturgeon said. “I was able to do that the last two rounds and I’m just ecstatic. I usually always hit the golf ball pretty well for the most part. I just played so up tight the first day, almost like I had something to lose, but I hadn’t won anything to lose yet. I just got in my own way hitting some bad chips, I had some three putts and just wasted the day.
“After that, I told my caddie I had to shoot 65 to have a chance. Somehow on the last nine holes on Monday, I shot 30 and I had a chance,” he added. “Then I snuck in on the number. To play as well as I did the last two days here after how bad I played on Sunday was pretty big, so it’s just a lot of fun.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR: The PGA Championship is going to be special for every player who tees it up at Hazeltine. But it probably won’t be cooler for any two players than it will be for Craig Thomas and Keith Dicciani.
Thomas is 45 years old and the PGA Head Professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y. Dicciani is an assistant there. Thomas tied for fourth on Wednesday to make it to the PGA Championship for the fourth time. Dicciani tied for eighth and will make his debut. Interestingly, Dicciani is engaged to Thomas’ stepdaughter, Danielle.
“My wife’s daughter, my stepdaughter Danielle, is engaged to Keith. They got engaged this past winter,” Thomas said. “I think they’re going to get married soon, but nobody knows where.”
It probably won’t be in August as Thomas and the groom-to-be will be busy with other things.
Thomas and Dicciani spent this week together and Thomas suspects that will also be the case in Minnesota.
“It’s going to be great. It was a lot of fun playing here together,” Thomas said. “We rented a house in town. I had my caddie come and he had a buddy of his come down from Utah to caddie for him, so it was very relaxing hanging out at the house. We’ll do the same thing out there. The house will be a little bit more crowded out there, I’m sure. The girls will want to come and the families are going to want to go as they always do, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
MAKING IT LOOK EASY: Ryan Benzel, the PGA Teaching Professional at Battle Creek Country Club in Washington state, seems to save his best golf for the National Championship.
That trend continued on Wednesday. Benzel shot a 2-under 69 at Twin Warriors to finish in a tie for fourth in his third National Championship appearance. In his first start at Sunriver in 2007, Benzel tied for second. Last year at Reynolds Plantation, he tied for fourth.
“I played really well today,” Benzel said. “I had a couple of chances that I didn’t convert on and I hit probably my worst drive of the tournament on No. 18. I just fanned it right into the rough and had to lay up. But, I had to do that just to minimize anything else, to minimize a major mistake.”
The top 20 finishers and ties earn an exemption into the following year’s National Championship. Once again, Benzel has the luxury of not having to worry about qualifying when he plays in his Pacific Northwest sectional championship. And that’s something he likes.
“I don’t want to have to go back to my sectional championship to qualify, so if I can just keep qualifying at the National Championship, then I can just go to my section championship and play to win,” he said. “I don’t have that pressure of having to qualify.”
U-S-A, U-S-A!: The 10-player U.S. PGA Cup team that will tee it up at Gleneagles in Scotland this fall was finalized on Wednesday. Here’s how the team shapes up:
1. Mike Small
2. Scott Hebert
3. Ryan Benzel
4. Mark Sheftic
5. Steve Schneiter
6. Sonny Skinner
7. Kyle Flinton
8. Eric Lippert
9. Lee Rinker
10. Craig Thomas
First alternate: Tim Thelen
Second alternate: Tim Weinhart
Third alternate: Eric Dugas
FALLING JUST SHORT: Tim Weinhart is one of those on the outside looking in for the U.S. PGA Cup team as the second alternate.
The 39-year-old PGA Assistant Professional from St. Marlo Country Club in Duluth, Ga., had a share of the lead late in the final round of the National Championship, but dropped back into a tie for eighth after bogeying four of his final five holes.
When he finished at 4 under, Weinhart thought he may have done just enough to make the U.S. squad for the second time in his career.
“I got to the PGA Championship and that was the first goal,” he said. “The second goal was to get a spot on the PGA Cup team and it looks like I’ve done that. I don’t know for sure, but I think so. The other one, obviously, I wanted desperately to win. I caught the lead and I just didn’t make a couple of good golf swings coming down the stretch.
“I missed it left three or four times. I’m disappointed in that, but happy with the week. It was a great tournament and to get a top 10 against these guys is great. It was an amazing golf course and a great field, so I feel really good about it.”
While Weinhart isn’t on the PGA Cup team just yet, there’s no doubt it’s where he wants to be.
“This would be my second PGA Cup team and that’s why it’s so important,” Weinhart said. “Having been through it once, that’s the best experience I’ve ever had in golf, by far. Playing for your country is as good as it gets.”