John Bermel, both coach and player, proves a standout multi-tasker

John Bermel
Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
John Bermel is head coach of the University of Northern Iowa's men's and women's golf teams and is serving his 18th season as PGA head professional at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Cedar Falls.
By
Bob Denney
The PGA of America

Series: PGA

Of the 264 PGA Professionals awaiting the restart this April of the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship, John Bermel is well-schooled on adapting to delays and fickle weather.

You can almost hear John Fogerty’s lyrics cascading from “Center Field.”

2013 SOUTHWORTH SENIOR PNC

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“Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play.”

Dealing with adversity in an event, scheduling hassles and a player’s needs are nothing new to Coach Bermel of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who is making his second start in the Championship.

Bermel, 51, is the head coach of the University of Northern Iowa’s Division I men’s and women’s golf teams, along with serving his 19th season as PGA head professional at Pheasant Ridge Golf Course in Cedar Falls.

This is Bermel’s 19th year as UNI men’s coach, and he has guided the school’s women’s team the past 12 seasons. In 2002, his Panthers’ men’s squad was runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference, while his 2012 women’s team finished third in the MVC. 

I’ve got a great support group, but especially at home with my wife, Tracy,” said Bermel. “To do what I have done, you have to have that.”

A native of Keota, Iowa, Bermel was age 11 when he began helping his father deliver milk door to door at 5:00 a.m. He rushed to finish so that he could join a neighbor to get in an early round on the golf course.

“My neighbor encouraged me to join him for golf and I really started to get into the game,” said Bermel. “I’ve been playing the game ever since.”

Bermel went on to earn All-American honors at the NCAA Division III level at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and turned professional in 1986. Elected to PGA membership in 1989, Bermel spent the next quarter century becoming one of the most respected members of the Iowa PGA Section. He excelled as a player, coach, educator and inspiration to junior golfers.

Remember that touching 2009 PGA of America public service announcement, “Love Story,” narrated by Academy Award-winner Michael Douglas? Bermel has a spot in that PSA, helping a youngster with his swing.

Do you recall a golf training aid advertorial, “the BenderStik,” that occasionally runs nationwide? The ad promotes a product guaranteed to help you pattern your golf swing. Bermel designed it, and it was developed and marketed by 2009 PGA Teacher of the Year Mike Bender, a longtime friend of Bermel, a native Iowan and someone who coaches former Masters Champion Zach Johnson.

"Like any new idea, it takes a while to get going,” said Bermel. “It has been a lot of fun, a big help to students everywhere.”

Bermel proves annually that he practices what he preaches to his UNI teams. The guy can play.

He is a four-time Iowa PGA Section Champion; was the 1999 Iowa PGA Junior Golf Leader, the 2000 Iowa PGA Teacher of the Year; competed in 15 PGA Professional National Championships since 1991; two PGA Championships (1994 and ’96) and last year qualified for his first U.S. Senior Open.

He has made 13 holes-in-one, with one ace coming in 1996 in the PGA Professional National Championship. He closed his final round birdie-hole-in-one-birdie to just make the cut to a playoff. From there, Bermel earned one of 20 berths in the first PGA Championship to be contested at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville. “You can’t forget something like that,” said Bermel. “Yes, I have never made it easy.”

The Iowa PGA Section named him the 2012 Iowa Golf Professional of the Year, the 2013 Horton Smith Award recipient for contributions to PGA education; and was the national recipient of the 2011 Labron Harris Sr. Award, presented the college or high school coach and PGA Professional whose support of the game through teaching, coaching and involvement in the community has helped ensure the continued growth of golf.

Through it all, Bermel remains the humble person who smiles on days when sunshine is a distant memory. He is someone you would like to recruit your son or daughter to a college team.

“If I had to point to one thing that I might change before I got along in coaching it would be to push harder for more assistant coaches,” said Bermel. “The state of collegiate golf has improved so much in the past decade. It is like a mini-tour. It is unbelievable how good the kids are now.

“All you have to do is look at Jordan Spieth, who would have been among a long list of hopefuls years ago, but because of his training, his opportunities to play, he was in position this year to win the FedexCup. As for the women’s division, it used to be that someone who shot rounds of 75, 84 and 78 would have been playing No. 1 for us. Those days are gone.”

Bermel and the rest of the field have had a rare chance to reload in their preparations for the Championship that should have been decided last fall. Meanwhile, Bermel is never completely at rest, keeping his recruiting contacts updated.

“You are always recruiting,” said Bermel with a laugh. “That’s something you always have with you.”