By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
HERSHEY, Pa. – One year ago this week, Jeff Sorenson suffered a cruel fate during the final round of the PGA Professional National Championship at the French Lick Resort’s Pete Dye Course.
Starting the day in a tie for fifth, the PGA Teaching Professional from Columbia Golf Club in Minneapolis, Minn., had a day he’d rather forget.
Sorenson was 5 over after the first five holes, played his next nine holes in 1 under and then tripped up with three consecutive bogeys beginning at No. 15. He was 7 over through 17 holes. The only thing standing between Sorenson and his first PGA Championship start was a birdie on the 18th hole. No small feat, but the 18th is a par 5, which played as the easiest at the Dye that week.
“I had a really good chance on No. 18, but the ball took a bad bounce,” Sorenson recalled. “I saw everything happening in front of my eyes, but at the same time, I was hitting good shots and just wasn’t getting rewarded very well.”
The result? A par at No. 18 for a 7-over 79 and a tie for 21st.
Twenty-one would have been great on the Blackjack tables at the French Lick Resort’s casino, but on the Dye Course that day, it meant Sorenson finished one stroke outside the number for a berth in the PGA Championship.
Making matters worse, was the fact that the PGA Championship was being played at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, which borders his home state.
“I was a little perturbed, I guess you could say,” Sorenson admitted. “I thought I should have been there. On the other hand, it’s golf. It’s not an exact science.”
Fast forward to this year. After two rounds of the 44th PGA Professional National Championship at Hershey Country Club, Sorenson is very much in the mix at 10-under 133 after completing his second round on Monday.
“I’m very happy so far,” said the 32-year-old Sorenson, who shot a 6-under 65 on Hershey’s East Course Sunday and a 4-under 68 on the West Course Monday. “I’m playing very well and my expectations are high, but I felt like I left a few shots out there. I’m very happy with where I’m at and I think I’ve got a very good chance.”
Monday’s round included five birdies, highlighted by a slick 15-foot slider on No. 2 and a kick-in at No. 11 after knocking a lob wedge from 105 yards stiff. His lone bogey came at No. 17.
Sorenson said that sometimes he thinks about what happened at French Lick, but has taken positive vibes from it more than anything else. Before that tie for 21st, Sorenson had missed the cut in two other PPNC appearances. Since then, he made it through the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School and finished two shots away from making it to the final stage.
“I felt like, ‘hey, I can play at that level,’ and so I’m trying to take a positive attitude and really believe in myself and play my best,” he said.
And so far, Sorenson is doing just that in Hershey. He hit 15 greens in the first round and 16 in the second, despite hitting just five fairways each day.
On the 18th hole of the second round -- a 424-yard par 4 -- Sorenson found the left rough with his tee shot. He advanced the ball with his second, but came up well short of the green and was faced with a treacherous pitch shot to an elevated green. Sorenson executed it beautifully, and rolled in a 6-foot putt to save par.
“I feel like I’m a player who tends to go step by step,” he said. “It’d be nice to be like Rory McIlroy and just burst onto the scene and become a major champion by age 22. But I’m kind of a guy who needs to build on each level. I feel like that’s what’s been happening in my career. Hopefully this year I’m going to build on last year’s PNC finish to get it higher up.”
So what was the biggest lesson Sorenson learned from that day at French Lick when the Golf Gods just weren’t on his side?
“I think I learned that you’ve got to just keep playing golf,” he said. “In other words, you’ve got to act like you’re a kid -- ‘oh, I’ve got a pitching wedge to that pin’ -- think about it like you always do instead of thinking, ‘OK, what does this mean?’ Just hit it at your target. It’s not that I was, but I’m sure there were moments when thoughts crept into my mind where I was thinking about stuff. Just keep playing golf.”