By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
HERSHEY, Pa. -- The final round of the 44th PGA Professional National Championship at Hershey Country Club's East Course provided a measure of redemption for 29-year-old Danny Balin.
Most PGA Professionals would have been over the moon to do what Balin did at the French Lick Resort in the 2010 PPNC. Making his debut last year, the PGA Assistant Professional at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., entered the final round alone in second, four shots behind eventual winner Mike Small.
Over those closing 18 holes, however, Balin struggled to the tune of a 3-over 75 to finish alone in fourth. In the grand scheme of things, it was a tremendous effort in his first trip to the National Championship, and was more than enough to earn him a spot in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
Call it the competitor in him, but that 75 just didn't sit well with Balin.
One year later, that 75 is nothing more than a blip on the radar. Balin on Wednesday emphatically proved he can close.
Starting the final round at 1 under and needing to make a move to have a shot at his second consecutive trip to the PGA Championship, Balin put on a clinic on the Hershey's East Course, confidently firing a course-record, 8-under 63.
That incredible round put Balin at 9-under par (276 total) and propelled him 30 spots up the leaderboard, good for a second straight fourth-place finish.
"This feels awesome," Balin said. "I've been playing good lately, but didn't really have my best stuff the first couple of days this week. To get out there and not have any bogeys or three-putts today, just making it happen -- it feels awesome."
Balin brought the East Course to its knees with a flawless round that featured six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole. He birdied four of his first five holes on the back nine, tacked on another birdie with an 18-foot putt on No. 17 and came home in a remarkable 5-under 30.
Don't be fooled -- the East Course played far from easy on Wednesday. The next-best round of the day was a 3-under 68 by eventual winner David Hutsell.
To give Balin's round even more perspective, out of the 85 players who made the cut, Balin's was one of just 10 sub-par rounds on Wednesday.
"Considering the stage, I think this has to be my best round ever," he said. "I have one other course record, but to do it under these circumstances was great."
Believe it or not, Balin's last-day charge was nearly the round that wasn't.
In the first round at the East Course on Sunday, Balin shot -- ahem -- a 4-over 75 to put himself behind the eight-ball early. He bounced back with a 4-under 68 on the friendlier West Course in the second round to get to even for the tournament.
At one point on Monday, Balin was seen in the pro-shop purchasing some souvenirs, waiting patiently to find out if even par would be enough to make the 36-hole cut.
After a lot of waiting, wondering and a little bit of retail therapy, Balin did make the cut, right on the number.
"Yeah, for a while there I wasn't sure if I was going to be playing anymore golf this week," Balin admitted. "Luckily, it all worked out."
Balin hit 10 of 14 fairways in the final round and 12 of 18 greens, needing only 24 putts.
He narrowly missed his second eagle of the day at the par-5 14th hole. There he sent a hybrid second shot over the top of the flag stick and missed a 12-foot eagle bid by mere inches. The only fairway Balin missed on the inward nine was at the 10th hole, which wasn't a problem -- he made birdie there.
"I didn't think I was on pace for a course record," he said. "I really didn't know where I was at. I just tried to learn from what happened last year. This time around it was a different situation. Last year I was well inside the number going into the last round and trying to win the tournament. This year, I had to play from behind. I knew that if I got off to a good start and just played the way that I know how to play that good things would happen and here we are."
After Balin signed his card on the picture-perfect Pennsylvania summer day, PGA Managing Director of Tournaments Kerry Haigh handed him a white package.
It's a package every player in the field wants, but only 20 get -- details for their upcoming trip to the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Balin shook Haigh's hand and smiled.
"Today was just a lot of fun," he said.