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Gary Ament, Mark Sheftic
Mark Sheftic is benefiting from caddie Gary Ament's in-depth knowledge of his game. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Caddie's timely putting tip helps Sheftic maintain his lead

Merion's Mark Sheftic, the 36-hole leader, was struggling a bit Tuesday, until caddie Gary Ament made a very astute observation that salvaged Sheftic's day. He enters Wednesday's final round two shots ahead of Steve Schneiter, Keith Dicciani and Todd Lancaster. A total of 13 players are within five shots of Sheftic, and 27 players are under par at the 54-hole mark.

By Bob Denney, PGA.com Contributor

SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. -- When John Lennon and Paul McCartney teamed up to help their friend Ringo Starr by co-writing the 1967 song, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” you had a feeling those timeless lyrics could apply to almost any partner in need.

Mark Sheftic of Ambler, Pa., got a little help from his caddie and longtime friend on the 17th green Tuesday afternoon at Twin Warriors Golf Club, just in time to complete a rollercoaster 1-under-par 70 and take a two-stroke lead in the 42nd PGA Professional National Championship.

Sheftic, a 34-year-old PGA teaching professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., had an adventurous day that featured three bogeys and three birdies before an unidentified golf cart driver ran over his ball in the rough on the left side of the par-5 16th hole.

He was able to scramble for par, despite a free drop into deeper grass and then hitting his third shot across the green, before pitching to 15 feet and two-putting. Things improved for Sheftic on the 17th green.

Caddie Gary Ament, 50, of Lancaster, Pa., who owns a 3 handicap, then stepped in to make an observation.

“Gary knows me and my game inside out,” said Sheftic. “He noticed that I was struggling with the putter and told me to move my hands slightly forward before I made the stroke. So, I did that and made the putt (a 15-foot birdie). Everything felt great after that.”

Sheftic’s owns a 54-hole total of 8-under-par 205, and is chased by nine players lying four strokes from the lead.

Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, the 1995 National Champion, led a trio at 207 that included Keith Dicciani of White Plains, N.Y., and Todd Lancaster of Aurora, Ohio.

Lee Rinker of Jupiter, Fla., who hasn’t made a cut in two years after finishing third in 2006, posted a 68 to land alone at 208. Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., the 2005 National Champion, was a stroke back at 209, and joined by Eric Lippert of Marina, Calif., who posted the day’s best round of 65; Chris Starkjohann of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif.; Michael Suhre of Edwardsville, Ill.; and Greg Bisconti of South Salem, N.Y.

Lancaster, a PGA assistant professional at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River, Ohio, had an opportunity to narrow the gap with Sheftic before three-putting the 18th hole.

“It got windy the last five holes, and we had to take advantage of the course early,” said Lancaster, who tied for 45th last year. “I am going to try and enjoy it tomorrow. I need to keep hitting my target and playing my game and have fun. I was hitting the ball pretty steady the first 15 holes and tried to stay in the game.”

Lippert, a PGA assistant professional at Del Monte Golf Course in Monterrey, Calif., just missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 ninth, his final hole of the day, to share the lowest 18-hole round of the week.

“I started on 10 and made a good putt to save par. That helped me. I really was trying to commit to a golf swing,” said Lippert. “I got some help before I left from Laird Small on a couple of swing tips and have been trying to implement them. They paid off pretty well today.

“Today I finally let it go. It was fresh air to make the cut. Last year, I missed by a shot. To make it right on the number and now I have a good chance to go on and finish well.”

The week’s biggest recovery was by Pittsburgh’s Grant Sturgeon, a PGA assistant professional at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Shaking off an opening-round 79, Sturgeon has been a different player the past 36 holes, going 10 under par to share 15th place and just six strokes off the pace.

He began his climb back in Monday’s second round at nearby Santa Ana Golf Club by recording a hole-in-one and capping that round of 65 with a birdie on the 18th hole. On Tuesday, Sturgeon became a bona fide contender by making five birdies and a bogey on his way to a 67.

“The last 36 holes have been awesome. I hit the golf ball really, really well both days and the big thing is that I started to make some putts,” said Sturgeon. “When I make some putts, I usually play well. My caddie and I had a lot better feel for the greens as far as the speed goes. I was just picking out the lines and just making some putts and forget about that first round and keep working on what I’ve done the past two days. I’m known for not starting quick some times and finishing strong. I’ve always done that.”

The PGA Professional National Championship, featuring a $550,000 purse and 312 players representing 43 states and 41 PGA Sections, concludes Wednesday.

The low 20 scorers earn a berth in the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. The final round also will determine the 10 members of this year’s United States Team, which faces Great Britain & Ireland in the 24th PGA Cup, Sept. 18-20, at The Carrick 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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