Top 20 finishers earn PGA Championship spots
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
SUNRIVER, Ore. – The beauty of the PGA Professional National Championship is that a player doesn’t need to win to consider himself victorious.
Sure, there’s nothing better for a PGA Professional than to be the Association’s National Champion among a field of 312. But anyone who finishes inside the top 20 can also consider the week a monumental triumph as it equals a coveted berth in the PGA Championship.
At the Sunriver Resort’s Crosswater Club on Wednesday, the following 20 players – led by champion Rod Perry – punched their hard-earned tickets to Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., for the PGA Championship, August 8-11:
-- Rod Perry of York, Pa., representing Crane Lakes Golf Course in Port Orange, Fla.
-- Ryan Polzin of San Antonio, Texas, representing Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston
-- Jeff Sorenson of Minneapolis, Minn., representing Columbia Golf Club in Minneapolis
-- J.C. Anderson of Springfield, Ill., representing Mid-Rivers Golf Complex in Saint Peters, Mo.
-- Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., representing the University of Illinois
-- Chip Sullivan of Albany, N.Y., representing Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va.
-- Mark Sheftic of Hanover, Pa., representing Merion Golf Club
-- Bob Sowards of Portsmouth, Ohio, representing New Albany (Ohio) Country Club
-- David Muttitt of Dallas, Texas, representing Paa-ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park, N.M.
-- Mark Brown of Boston, Mass., representing Tam O'Shanter Club in Brookville, N.Y.
-- David McNabb of Mt. Clemens, Mich., representing Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa.
-- Kirk Hanefeld of Claremont, N.H., representing Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill, Mass.
-- Sonny Skinner of Portsmouth, Va., representing River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga.
-- Stuart Smith of Reno, Nev., representing Somersett Country Club in Reno, Nev.
-- Jeffrey Martin of Portland, Maine, representing Norton (Mass.) Country Club
-- Lee Rhind of Livingston, Scotland, representing Midland Country Club in Midland, Texas
-- Caine Fitzgerald of Davenport, Iowa, representing Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo.
-- Rob Labritz of Hartford, Conn., representing GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
-- Danny Balin of Rockville, Md., representing Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn.
-- Bob Gaus of St. Louis, Mo., representing Tower Tee Golf Center in St. Louis
Perry, the 2012 PGA Professional Player of the Year, shot a 3-under 69 in the final round to finish at 10-under 277, good for a three-shot victory over Ryan Polzin.
“This is by far the biggest win of my career,” Perry said. “Winning the Florida Open and a couple of other Section events are great, but this is on the national stage. It’s huge. Winning the Player of the Year Award in 2012 made me think, at least for a second, maybe I am one of the better players in the PGA and maybe I can compete on a consistent basis. After finishing second last year, I knew I didn’t play my best last year, so I had confidence coming here. I figured if I could play just a little bit better, maybe I’d have a chance.”
As is typically the case, it took overtime to decide the final spots, since only 20 players on the number get in to the PGA Championship. After regulation play was completed and Perry was crowned champion, the six players who tied for 18th after 72 holes – Rob Labritz, Jason Schmuhl, Danny Balin, Chris Black, Bob Gaus and Corey Prugh – set out for a six-man playoff to determine the final three spots available.
Balin and Gaus moved on quickly with birdies on the 413-yard, par-4 10th hole, the first of the playoff. That left Labritz, Schmuhl, Black and Prugh to play for the final spot.
Labritz looked to be out of the mix after drawing an awful lie with his tee shot in a fairway bunker on the 457-yard, par-4 11th hole. Forced to punch out while the other played onto the green, Labritz proceeded to miraculously hole out for birdie from 95 yards with a 53-degree gap wedge. After none of the others matched the birdie, the 42-year-old Labritz was in his fourth PGA Championship.
"I don't have many words,” Labritz said. “It's been an emotional week, but a great ending to it. What a way to go back to the PGA at Oak Hill.”
For Muttitt, a 30-year-old who was raised in England, his first start in a PNC also resulted in his first trip to the PGA Championship. The emotions were almost too much to hold in for Muttitt after his final-round, 2-uder 70 got him to 1-under 287 for the tournament and enough to get the job done.
“It’s… I can’t describe what it means, really,” said Muttitt, holding back the joyous tears after finishing tied for tie for ninth. “I’ve put everything on this week and it’s worked out it seems. The rain was just on and off today. This golf course just never lets up. You’ve got to stand up and hit your shot every time. There’s no gimme golf holes out there. If you miss a shot it’s going to cost you. You need to stand up and hit the shots you need to hit. It’s tough. The rain reminded me of home, absolutely. I grew up playing in that. If you didn’t play in that, you didn’t play golf at all. I think that helped for sure this week. I can’t even begin to describe this feeling. I really can’t.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Anderson. The 51-year-old will be making his second PGA Championship start.
Coincidentally, Anderson’s first – and only other PGA Championship – was in 2003 at Oak Hill.
“Let’s hope this time there isn’t a power outage on the east coast like there was the last time,” joked Anderson. “Let’s hope the power doesn’t go out this year.”
Anderson started the final round of the PNC at 1 over before going out and recording the best score of the week at Crosswater with an incredibly impressive 5-under 67 that included three birdies in his first four holes to finish in a tie for fourth at 4 under.
“I knew anything under par to finish would get to the PGA,” he said. “But if you start thinking score, you probably end up shooting one more than what your score should be. You hear so many stories about guys missing by one shot. That’s because they were looking at their scores. I know it sounds so cliché, but I just took it one shot at a time, one hole at a time. I played to my strengths. My ball striking with my irons was great and I felt very comfortable with the putter all week. That’s really big for me. Sometimes I get a little twitchy with the putter, but I was calm with the putter all week.”
Anderson had a few thoughts on why he was able to go so low on Wednesday.
“I put my score today down to three or four things,” he said. “First, my pairing. I know Jeff Coston and Jerry Haas really well. We’ve played a lot of golf together throughout the years. I was very comfortable with the pairing. Secondly, when it’s raining, I think it causes you to focus a little harder. I was more focused. They got off to a good start, I got off to a good start, so as a group we got off to a great start. That’s where it snowballs, because it can go the other way too.”
After tying for ninth thanks to a final-round, 1-under 71, David McNabb couldn’t have been more delighted. His first trip to the PGA Championship comes after four previous failed attempts in the PNC that all resulted in missed cuts.
“This is an awesome feeling,” said a choked up McNabb. “Just an awesome feeling. I’ve been grinding at this for a long time. One of the goals I set early in my career was to play in a major championship. It looks like that’s finally coming true, so I couldn’t be happier. I can’t even tell you what it feels like. It’s just awesome. I’m so proud of myself. I played good, I played smart and I worked hard. I know all the members at the club are going to be ecstatic and so will family. We’re going to have a great week up there. It’s awesome.”
Sorenson had a hard time fighting back the tears as well, as he advances to his second PGA Championship.
“God, I’m emotional,” he said. “It was a grind. This is a super hard golf course. I really tried to just stay in the moment all week and I did it. It means so much too to be able to share the experience with my brother, Matt, who caddies for me. It’s definitely a little extra something for me having him here. It feels good.”
Finally, there was Polzin, the runner up. He birdied the 17th hole on Wednesday to pull within one of the lead with one hole to play. At the 18th, however, he lost his tee ball in a hazard and ended up making a double bogey.
If Polzin, 33, was disappointed, you sure couldn’t tell following the round. This was his third PNC start, the first where he didn’t miss the cut, and he finished alone in second place.
“After the birdie on No. 17, I felt like I’d have a chance,” said Polzin. “I got up there on No. 18 tee where I’d hit driver everyday just fine and I just got quick. The emotions got to me a little bit. I yanked it left and ended up with a double bogey. I’m not going to let that bring me down though. It was a magical week for me. I just cashed the biggest check of my career, I made the PGA and I gave myself a chance. I was tied for the lead after 63 holes. What more can you ask for?