By John Kim and T.J. Auclair, PGA.com
GOOD LUCK CHARM?:
HERSHEY, Pa. -- Scott Hebert, the PGA Head Professional at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, Mich., might be holding up traffic as he gets his new Club Car Precedent back to his home course.
Hebert, the 2008 winner of the PGA Professional National Championship, needed a boost in his third round on Tuesday as his score was going the wrong way. He’s qualified to play in the last four PGA Championships by finishing in the top 20 of this event, but was in danger of falling too far back to make it again as he stood on the 14th tee 3 over par on the day.
But a nice birdie on No. 14 righted the ship a bit and set the scene for the 16th hole.
On the 16th, a long par 3 with water to the right, Hebert struck his shot “on the grooves” and the ball never left the line he envisioned.
“Halfway there, I asked my caddie ‘What color do you want?’” he laughed. “It was a good shot that got lucky and went in.”
Club Car, one of the presenting sponsors of this championship, offered up a new Precedent golf cart for the first ace in competition this week.
“We live in a pretty open community,” Hebert smiled, “I’m sure my son will love driving it around the yard.”
Hebert finished with another birdie on the final hole and was 1 under for the day, 4 under for the championship. He is tied for 15th, with the top 20 after the final round again earning an exemption into the PGA Championship in Atlanta.
Prior to Hebert’s ace, there was some time to chat with one of his playing partners on the 13th tee as they waited to tee off. PGA Professional Craig Stevens noted that he played with two players this week in practice rounds who had made holes-in-one. With Hebert’s hole-in-one, Stevens has now seen three “1s” on the week. “I’d like to think I get a turn,” he laughed. “Maybe tomorrow.”THIS TIME’S A CHARM:
Prior to this week, 43-year-old Stuart Smith had played in the PGA Professional National Championship on two occasions, both resulting in a missed cut.
It’s evident now that Smith has a short memory and an outstanding golf game. Through 54 holes at Hershey Country Club, the PGA Director of Golf at Somersett Country Club in Reno, Nev., is at 10-under 204 and just two shots off the lead.
“I don’t know if I had any expectations coming into this week other than trying to play my best,” said Smith. “It’s not like I’ve played a lot recently. We had virtually no spring in Reno, but I had a lot of practice time. I’ve done well in some chapter events and done well in some section events. My game is kind of on the cusp. I’m feeling comfortable, so as I go I’m hoping that I’ll get a little stronger as long as I can maybe tame the nerves a little bit.”
Smith’s scores this week -- 68-67-69 -- have been impressive. Previously, his best round in a PPNC was a 71.
Smith said that the key to his play this week, aside from riding a hot putter, is the fact that he’s not allowing himself to think ahead.
“I’ve had a pretty easy time,” he said. “I haven’t been thinking much about the future and I’ve done a pretty good job of staying in the moment. The stuff that comes with playing well here -- yeah, it crosses my mind. My main thing coming here was just that I wanted to play good golf. I’m just going to keep trying to do that. Hopefully the rewards will come with it.”
If Smith can at least maintain his position, a tie for third, he will represent the U.S. as a member of the PGA Cup team in September. That would be incredibly special for Smith. The PGA Cup is being played at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif.
“I’ve played in the Monterey area extensively,” Smith said. “It’d be real nice to play in that. That’s 18 holes away though -- maybe 60 some odd shots. I’ll take it one step at a time. To get to Atlanta for the PGA would be a thrill. My membership would have to deal with me taking another week off of work, but I know they’re rooting for me. I know they’d send me with their blessings.”A WEEK TO REMEMBER:
Brian Cairns, PGA Teaching Professional at Fox Hills Golf and Banquet Center in Plymouth, Mich., was a little hot under the collar as he walked off the 18th hole after an even-par 71 Tuesday.
Cairns was playing beautifully all day, but took bogeys on Nos. 15 and 17 and missed a short birdie putt on No. 18.
At 2-under-par 211, Cairns is tied for 20th after 54 holes -- on the mark it will require to earn a spot in the PGA Championship.
“I drove the ball perfect today -- just split the fairway all day,” Cairns said. “I made a lot of 4- 5-footers and missed a couple coming in. I hit the ball pretty solid and didn’t get a whole lot out of the round. If I do what I did today again tomorrow, I’ll shoot a good round. I’m confident of that.”
This is Cairns’s sixth appearance in the PPNC. In those other five starts, he missed the cut three times and his best finish was a tie for 35th in 2001.
Past record aside, Cairns came into this week with lofty expectations.
“I’ve been playing well this week -- and all season, really -- and my goal this whole week was to crack the top 5,” he said. “Top 20 I thought would happen. My real goal is top 5. I’m driving the ball pretty well. I don’t know why I’ve been so confident this week. Maybe it’s just because I know what I’m going to feel a little bit better. I’ve played well the last couple of events up in Michigan. Plus, this golf course is very comfortable for me. If you combine all that, I think it helps.”
If Cairns can combine all three on Wednesday, he’ll be in good shape to accomplish his goal. But right now, he’s only thinking about one thing.
“I’ll be thinking about the ramifications of a good finish tomorrow all night, but I’m really only thinking about that first tee shot tomorrow -- splitting that fairway and that’s it,” he said.HOME COOKIN’:
This week marks a bit of a home game for Robert McClellan, the PGA Head Professional at Butler Country Club in Butler, Pa. OK, so “home game,” might be pushing it, but this PPNC is being played in McClellan’s home state at least.
After a tie for 15th at the 2010 PPNC that earned McClellan a trip to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he’s positioned himself with a chance to make it two PGA Championship trips in two consecutive years.
“I couldn’t really ask for a better position than the one I’m in right now,” said McClellan, who is tied for third after 54 holes at 10 under. “I haven’t made any big mistakes. All three rounds I’ve tried to play aggressive, but also play smart.”
The 31-year-old McClellan had the best score in the third round with a 5-under 66. The round featured seven birdies -- including one on No. 18 -- and just two bogeys.
“I just put myself in the places I needed to be to score,” he said. “I couldn’t have gotten much more out of my round than I did.”
McClellan said he expects experiences like playing at Whistling Straits last year will serve him well in the final round on Wednesday.
“You get a little more comfortable the more times you’re on a big stage,” he said. “But this is probably the biggest tournament where I’ve had a chance. We’ll see what comes. Obviously there will be nerves there, but I’m going to enjoy it.”MAKING THE MOST OF AN OPPORTUNITY:
Mike Moses, PGA Head Professional at Concord Country Club in Concordville, Pa., only gained entry into the PGA Professional National Championship when past champion John Traub withdrew last Friday. Moses has made the most of the last-minute opportunity and sits at even-par, tied for 43rd, and in contention to jump up into the top 20 and earn an entry into the 93rd PGA Championship in August.