Top 20 in National Championship get coveted berths in PGA Championship

Jeff Coston
Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America
At age 56, Jeff Coston of Washington is headed back to the PGA Championship.

Series: PGA

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

SEASIDE, Calif. – When 312 of the nation’s top PGA Professionals showed up at Bayonet Black Horse this week for the 45th PGA Professional National Championship, they all had one common goal: finish in the top 20.

Of course, all of them had dreams of winning.

That dream came true for Matt Dobyns, the PGA Head Professional from Fresh Meadow in Lake Success, N.Y., who was making his National Championship debut. Dobyns finished at 13-under 275, which was good for an amazing eight-shot victory over Rod Perry, the PGA head professional at Crane Lakes Golf Course in Port Orange, Fla.; and Kelly Mitchum, the PGA assistant professional at Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C.).

“This is the biggest tournament I’ve ever won,” Dobyns said. “It’ll probably be the biggest tournament I ever win. I’m trying to cherish every single second, but it’s hard because everything is going so quickly. From a golf standpoint, I really had control of my golf swing and I can’t tell you why. For whatever reason, when I showed up here I was in control and the hard shots didn’t feel that hard.”

Back to that top-20 finish. Those in the top 20 earned an exemption into the final major of the season, the PGA Championship, which will be contested Aug. 9-12 on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.

Michael Frye, PGA Assistant Professional at Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Ariz., was part of an eight-man playoff for the final spot. He advanced with a par at the par-4 12th hole, the third playoff hole.

Marty Jertson, Senior Design Engineer at PING Golf in Phoenix, Ariz., might have been the most impressive. After starting the tournament with a seemingly crushing 6-over 78, he shot a remarkable 4-under 68 in the second round to make the cut. With a 72 in the third round, followed by a 3-under 69 in the final round, Jertson went from making the cut to finishing in a tie for seventh at 1-under 287.

“After shooting 78 in the first round – shoot – I was behind the 8-ball, then I was fighting to make the cut, then I was fighting to make the top 20,” said Jertson, who made his PGA Championship debut a year ago after a tie for fifth in Hershey, Pa. “My goal was top 10. That’s big. It gets you some other exemptions into some stuff. I told my wife, my goal today was to shoot in the 60s. I got it done.”

Bob Sowards, PGA Teaching Professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, winner of the 2004 National Championship and a member of the PGA Tour in 2008, cemented his sixth trip to the PGA Championship with a 12th-place finish. Sowards was disappointed with a 4-over 76 in the third round, but knowing that he’ll be at Kiawah Island was a nice consolation. 

“It’s great to be going back to the PGA Championship,” he said. “It’s a little bittersweet. I had such a perfect game plan coming in here and finishing 12th isn’t the way I wanted it to go, but it’s definitely a great perk to get back there. I have a little chip on my shoulder for how the PGA went last year, bogeying the last hole to miss the cut by a shot. So, I’m excited to get back.”

Sowards expects his prior experience to help him in August.

“In my first couple of PGA Championships, I thought, ‘Man, I have to be perfect and play unbelievably well just to make the cut,’” Sowards said. “I know Kiawah will be very difficult, so you have to realize that pars will mean something and there are a lot of different ways to make par. I know now that I don’t have to be perfect.”

In 2011, Jeff Coston, the PGA teaching professional at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash., was the oldest player to qualify for the PGA Championship at age 55. He’ll likely be the oldest player to tee it up again this year at age 56 after a sixth-place showing at Bayonet Black Horse – his best finish in the National Championship since a tie for fourth in 2004.

“Pride is a big thing for me,” Coston said. “I’m not a spectator, I’m a participant. It’s fun for my golf academy, folks at Semiahmoo, family and friends. Being in shape is important. I’m trying to hold off Father Time for as long as I can.”

Incidentally, Coston was the low club professional at the 2007 Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. He finished in a tie for 19th.

On the final hole Wednesday, Coston finished in style with a birdie.

“Finishing strong is fun,” he said. “I don’t like crawling across the finish line, I like running across the finish line. I didn’t hit the best drive of my career on that last hole, but I hit an amazing 4-iron and a really nice wedge in. I wanted to finish up freely, not attached to the outcome and strong.”

Bill Murchison, PGA Assistant Professional at Towne Lake Hills Golf Club in Woodstock, Ga., at just 28 years old, missed the cut by one shot in the 2011 National Championship. He redeemed himself this time around with a tie for seventh and his first trip to the PGA Championship.

“I’m real excited to be going to the PGA Championship,” he said. “I missed the last one by one shot. I used a lot of that experience to help me build for this year. I wanted to take advantage of what I learned and make something out of it. I came into this week a little shaky. My driver was a little off, I didn’t know where it was going, but I just hung in there, trusted it and it started getting better each day. I’m thankful for that. I made it. So, it’s pretty exciting. After last year, I learned just not to think ahead. Focus on one shot at a time. Don’t put everything on qualifying. Just play a round of golf and let it happen. I did that this week very well and it worked out.”

Danny Balin, PGA Assistant Professional at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., who finished fifth in his first two National Championships, heads to the PGA Championship for the third consecutive year.

It wasn’t easy though. Balin needed a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to avoid a playoff for the 20th spot. He did just that, reaching the green in two with an incredible 3-wood that set up a two-putt birdie.

“My brothers were out there watching and they told me I needed to make a birdie to give myself a chance,” Balin said. “I had to go for it. I hadn’t made birdie on 18 all week. I had a good number to hit this slice 3-wood around the trees and I ended up hitting one of the best shots of my life – not only to get it on the green, but to keep it on the green to give myself a chance. It was awesome.

“I’m 3-for-3 now and that’s special,” he added. “This year was a little more of a struggle for me than the other two. I hit it awesome all week long and I made no putts. To do that, you’re happy that you’re hitting it great, but not hitting putts wears on you. It wears on your mind. I just stuck with it. My caddie and I stuck together and just grinded it out. It’s a great feeling to go not only this year, but the last two years.”

The following PGA Professionals will join winner Matt Dobyns at the 94th PGA Championship:
- Danny Balin of Rockville, Md., representing Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn.
- Frank Bensel of Greenwich, Conn., representing Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y.
- Mark Brown of Oyster Bay, N.Y., representing Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Glen Head, N.Y.
- Brian Cairns of Walled Lake, Mich., representing Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth, Mich.
- Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., representing Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club in Blaine, Wash.
- Michael Frye of Sedona, Ariz., representing Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Ariz.
- Brian Gaffney of Monmouth Beach, N.J., representing Rumson (N.J.) Country Club
- Marty Jertson of Phoenix, Ariz., representing PING Golf in Phoenix, Ariz.
- Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y., representing Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y.
- Mitch Lowe of San Francisco, representing Half Moon Bay (Calif.) Golf Links
- Kelly Mitchum of Southern Pines, N.C., representing Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort and Country Club
- Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., representing The Falls Country Club in Lake Worth, Fla.
- Bill Murchison of Canton, Ga., representing Towne Lake Hills Golf Club in Woodstock, Ga.
- Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., representing Crane Lakes Golf Course in Port Orange, Fla.
- Corey Prugh of Spokane, Wash., representing Manito Golf and Country Club in Spokane, Wash.
- Paul Scaletta of Jupiter, Fla., representing The Bear's Club in Jupiter, Fla.
- Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., representing the University of Illinois
- Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, representing New Albany (Ohio) Country Club
- Doug Wade of Cincinnati, Ohio, representing Miami Valley Golf Club in Dayton, Ohio