By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
HERSHEY, Pa. – As the sun set at Hershey Country Club on Monday evening, so did the hopes of a PGA Championship berth for a number of players.
A total of 312 players teed it up in the 44th PGA Professional National Championship at Hershey’s East and West courses on Sunday, and after two days only 85 have survived the 36-hole cut, which fell at even-par 143.
Sean Dougherty, PGA Head Professional at Milburn Country Club in Overland Park, Kan., is playing in his first PPNC and owns the halfway lead at 12-under 131. That’s two shots clear of Minnesota’s Jeff Sorenson and another PPNC rookie, Scott Erdmann from Oswego Lake Country Club in Lake Oswego, Ore.
Two-time defending champion Mike Small is still in the mix. The University of Illinois men’s golf coach shot an even-par 71 on the East Course Monday and is 5 under for the tournament, along with 2004 champ Bob Sowards and 1996 winner Darrell Kestner.
A number of notables missed the cut, including former champions Barry Evans (1 over), Chip Sullivan (3 over) and Wayne DeFrancesco (7 over).
Recent contenders Ryan Benzel (8 over) of Bothel, Wash., and Merion Golf Club PGA Teaching Professional Mark Sheftic (1 over), were also sent packing early.
“I felt like I was playing good coming into this week,” said Benzel, who hadn’t finished outside of the top 11 in four previous starts in the PPNC. “I didn’t putt well and I only made one birdie in two rounds. The first day I didn’t play real solid, real great, but today I hit the ball better and I played better.
“But then I got to thinking -- there are about 14 uphill approach shots to the greens here and the only four that are not are the par 3s. I don’t I do my best when I’m faced with uphill approach shots. I’m not a high-ball hitter. I’m a lower-trajectory draw kind of player. That might have worked against me, but hey, I could have played better.”
In four previous PPNC appearances, Benzel hadn’t finished outside of the top 11. He was behind the 8-ball early with a 4-over 76 in Round 1 on the West Course, which has played as the easier of the two.
That meant Benzel had to have a low round on the more difficult East Course Monday.
The best he could muster was a 4-over 75.
“I hit it better today and I knew what I had to do,” he said. “From the standpoint of simplicity, it was laid out in front of me what I needed to go do. I’m disappointed, but that’s the way it goes. I don’t think I would have done anything different in getting ready for the week. It just so happens I didn’t play very well. You never want to have that happen, but that’s the way it goes. Now I need to go home, play some Section events and put my focus on trying to qualify for this next year.”
For Sheftic, the runner-up in 2009 and third-place finisher in 2010, the issue was with the putter.
“My ball-striking was fantastic, but the putting was just awful. I had a lot of wasted opportunities with the putter,” he said. “That’s been my year so far -- hitting the ball great, giving myself a lot of birdie opportunities, make a couple of putts you’re under par every round, but it was just a very, very poor putting exhibition.
“The first two PNCs that I played in, I actually hit the ball the exact same way, but I just made the putts. That’s the difference. I didn’t hit the ball any better back then, it’s just that putts fell. I had too many wasted shots today and yesterday. Everyone’s got their coulda, shoulda, woulda’s. I left a lot of shots out there with the putter. It’s disappointing.”
Craig Thomas, PGA Head Professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., and a fellow 2009 winning U.S. PGA Cup team member with Benzel and Sheftic, managed to sneak into the final two rounds at 1-under 142.
That’s a number Thomas was more than happy to take considering his assessment of how he played.
“The way I hit it, I’m fortunate to be 1 under, honestly,” said Thomas, playing the PPNC for the 10th time. “I only hit four fairways today. I hit a lot of greens, but didn’t make any putts. The one birdie I made was maybe 18 inches long on No. 15. It’s funny. I putted real well on Sunday, but drove the ball poor. I continued to drive poorly today and didn’t putt well, so I’m going to spend some time on the putting green and some time on the range and hopefully be able to play two more days.”
For all those players who missed the cut, Sheftic put the situation in perspective.
“The bottom line is you’ve got 312 guys,” he said. “Good players. And they cut to 70 (and ties). To make the cut is pretty special. To make the top 20 is even more special. This is such a well-run tournament. The PGA, you can tell how much pride they take in it because it’s so well run. The Golf Channel is here. That’s just another perk. Your friends and family say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV,’ which is always nice.
“I’m extremely grateful for being a PGA member. I got to know past presidents Brian Whitcomb and Jim Remy real well,” he added. “And I’ve gotten to know President Allen Wronowski and all the officers. All they do for us, all the perks they give us when you qualify for something like this -- it’s just an amazing experience.”