By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
HERSHEY, Pa. -- Rob Labritz relished the spotlight last year in the PGA Championship, becoming the only PGA club professional to make the 36-hole cut at Whistling Straits.
The 40-year-old PGA director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., says that moment in the spotlight has not faded, but rather helped his PGA Professional career. This week, Labritz is banking that he can find momentum to return to a major championship while competing at Hershey Country Club in the 44th PGA Professional National Championship.
"Members look at me in a different light, just from making a cut in a major. I feel a lot more confident walking around and finally obtaining a goal," said Labritz. "I've rededicated myself to being the best PGA Professional I can be.
"I did miss the Tour Q-School finals by two strokes last year, and I poured myself back into my job. A lot of opportunities have opened up from my finish at Whistling Straits."
Labritz has competed in three previous National Championships -- finishing tied for seventh in 2002, tied for 21st in 2003 and tied for 15th last year. Each trip has resulted in a berth in that year's PGA Championship.
The goal of reaching a major hasn't changed for Labritz, but he also would like to add something else to his week's stay at "the Sweetest Place on Earth."
"I would like to challenge for the title. I've been close on the last three that I've played," he said. "It would be nice be on the leader board on Wednesday."
Labritz said that he was comfortable immediately upon seeing Hershey Country Club's traditional, tight, tree-lined layout.
"I heard a lot of players saying, 'Wow, it's narrow and tree-lined. Where I play in Westchester is even more narrow and tree-lined. I think that the greens here are unbelievable; a lot of undulations. The Northeast feel for me is a good feel."
Hershey Country Club's East Course, however, presents a challenge on the greens that few National Championship sites have displayed.
"In my previous years in this Championship, perhaps Valhalla, Twin Warriors and last year at the Donald Ross Course (at French Lick, Ind.), maybe they had a few greens like this. To be honest they are more like Hazeltine and Sebonack (in Southampton, N.Y). They are tough greens. You have to be below the flag, trying to find the lowest part of the green to have an uphill putt. If you have a side hill or down-hiller, it's going to be tough to make pars."
Labritz has learned something about preparing for a National Championship.
"Last year, I prepared a little too early and peaked out during the event," he said. "This year, I held off a little more and started about 1½ weeks ago and focused on my short game and will work to get into the top 20."
The PGA Professional National Championship, which is presented by Club Car and Mercedes-Benz, features a total purse of $550,000. The Championship is supported by Titleist/FootJoy, Callaway Golf, Nike Golf, TaylorMade-adidas golf/Ashworth and the PGA Tour.
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 and Bruce Fleisher.