Two straight 68s have left young Danny Balin the only player within four shots of leader Mike Small after 54 holes. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)
Confident first-timer Balin second only to Small
Despite this being only his first National Championship, 28-year-old Danny Balin is playing with the skills – and outlook – of a proven veteran. Wednesday night be a different story, though.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
FRENCH LICK, Ind. (PGA.com) – Typically, you’d expect a 28-year-old making his debut in the PGA Professional National Championship to be a little timid, maybe a little awed even at the prospect of playing well enough to earn a spot in the PGA Championship.
But not Danny Balin. He’s the exception to the rule.
On Tuesday at the Pete Dye Course in the third round of the 43rd edition of the National Championship, Balin made a ridiculous birdie on the final hole for a 4-under 68. That got the PGA Assistant Professional from Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., to 5 under for the tournament, alone in second place and three shots behind leader and defending champion Mike Small.
“I’ve been playing solid golf for the last couple of weeks and since I got out here I’ve been playing good,” said Balin, with an air of confidence that didn’t contain even a sliver of arrogance. “I left a couple of shots out there, missing a couple of greens in the wrong spots. I’m happy with how I played and I think 4 under is great. I just need to go out there and do it again tomorrow.”
Back to that birdie on No. 18.
After a solid drive into the middle of the sloping fairway, Balin had a long second shot remaining on the 568-yard par 5. Figuring it was better to be long than short, Balin thumped a fairway wood through the green. That left him a touchy, tight-lie, chip shot over a couple of humps along the back apron with very little green to work with.
Like the grizzled veteran it’s hard to believe he’s not, Balin deftly executed the shot, stopping it within a couple feet of the hole for a birdie and a sweet exclamation point to put on his 68 – his second 68 in as many days.
“I had a tough lie in the fairway,” Balin said. “I was on a down-slope and I figured it was better to be long than short. I’ve been chipping the ball and putting the ball pretty good all week. I just tried to get it on the green and if it goes close to the hole, it goes close to the hole.
"If not, I take bogey out of play and par is a score I’m happy to make," he explained. "As it turns out, I hit a good chip and it ended up two feet from the cup and a tap-in birdie.”
Balin had an even-par front nine Tuesday with four birdies and four bogeys, but made the most of his second nine with four birdies.
Surprisingly, Balin acknowledged that he understands the magnitude of this tournament, but admitted he’s not experiencing any nerves.
“No nerves out there, really,” he said. “I’ve been practicing a lot and putting myself in certain situations in order to get the experience I need to have the nerves under control. As long as I go out and play my game, the sky’s the limit to where I can go. I didn’t have a lot of nerves out there, but I’m sure I’ll have some tomorrow coming down the stretch.”
It didn’t hurt confidence-wise either that Balin had Small as one of his playing partners in the third round and will play with him again on Wednesday. Overtaking Small will be tough. He’s a two-time National Champion and he shattered the course record in the third round with a 7-under 65.
But one things for certain. Balin’s not going to be intimidated by Small.
“Playing with Mike Small today definitely helps nerves-wise for tomorrow,” he said. “I played with Mike a lot in the winter in some of the PGA Tournament Series events, so I think that experience will definitely help tomorrow. But, like I said, as long as I stay focused on the task at hand, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on around me.”
Coming into the tournament, Balin had three goals. Through 54 holes, the Penn State graduate has given himself a chance to accomplish all three.
“When you come to this tournament – even though this is only my first – I think there are a few goals,” Balin said. “The main goal is always to play in the PGA Championship. So, first, you need to make the cut. Second is to play in the PGA Championship and third is to win the tournament.
"We’ll see what happens. If I can play my best tomorrow, I’ll make a good run at it. Mike’s a great player, has a lot of experience and putts really well. I’ll play my own game and see what happens.”