The moment after David Hutsell made a birdie putt on the second playoff hole of the PGA Professional National Championship, June 29, at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club, life got sweet.
Many of the 1,000 members at The Elkridge Club in Baltimore, Md., attended a reception to welcome back the National Champion and PGA director of instruction. The replica of the Walter Hagen Cup that Hutsell earned was on display in the golf shop, and a day doesn't go by when someone doesn't pat him on the back or give him just that extra bit of attention.
In preparing for his second consecutive trip to the PGA Championship, Aug. 11-14, at Atlanta Athletic Club, Hutsell has not lost his winning touch.
The 40-year-old former baseball pitcher followed his National Championship by capturing his first Maryland State Open, July 13, at Maryland Golf and Country Club in Bel Air. Hutsell staged a rally in the final round, turning in a course record 65, highlighted by a blazing stretch of holes (Nos. 3-6), where he recorded birdie-eagle-eagle-birdie.
"That was a lot of fun, and once I got back to the club, the members were saying that I am on a roll," said Hutsell. "I would like to keep that up, of course, knowing that I'm headed to a major championship. All I can do is try to keep the short game as sharp as I can."
Keeping sharp has been a journey in the game for Hutsell, who called his victory in Hershey "my biggest accomplishment in golf by far." A decade ago, when he lost a playoff for one of 20 PGA Championship berths in Sunriver, Ore., and said that he had learned from the disappointment.
"It helped me get better," says Hutsell. "The more you play in a National Championship, the more you get a feel for what the number (the PGA Championship top-20 cut) will be. You have to judge the difficulty of the golf course.
"I know that at Atlanta (Athletic Club), you have to keep your short game sharp to have any chance of making the cut. Everyone is going to miss approach shots, but you want to be able to recover and make some putts."
To aid his preparations, Hutsell will have a practice round at Atlanta Athletic Club with fellow Middle Atlantic PGA Professionals Faber Jamerson of Appomattox, Va., the National Championship co-runner-up; and 2009 PGA Professional Player of the Year Rick Schuller of Chester, Va.
Schuller, who finished tied for 44th in the 2001 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club's Highlands Course, missed his chance for a Championship berth in June at Hershey, Pa. So, he will caddie for Jamerson. "Rick is a good friend and I'm happy that he will be there with Faber and giving us both some pointers on what we can expect."
Hutsell's trip to the PGA Championship follows overtones from his baseball career.
"My father helped me a lot in sports, and when I was on the mound, he said that he hates to see me give up any walks," says Hutsell. "That carries over into golf, I believe. You don't want to beat yourself."
Hutsell didn't beat himself on the mound that often. He was the winning pitcher in the title game in 1988 when Havre de Grace (Md.) High School won the Maryland Class C State Championship. He had one boyhood dream come true by pitching his senior year in the Baltimore Orioles' former ballpark, Memorial Stadium.
"I got my chance to pitch as a member of the North squad in the same stadium where the boyhood baseball heroes of mine, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray played," says Hutsell. "It was the State High School All-Star game and what a great experience!"
Golf came late in life to Hutsell, who went on to play for Towson University before suffering an arm injury that pointed him away from the diamond. He was a member a golf course maintenance crew before his college formed a golf team. As he gained more confidence in his game and turned professional in 1993, Hutsell began receiving coaching in 1995 from PGA Master Professional Don Trahan of Inman, S.C., the father of PGA Tour professional B.J. Trahan.
"Don has been a great help to me ever since I met him, helping me a great deal when we meet in person or over the phone," says Hutsell. "I will always keep in contact with him."
As the PGA Championship draws near, Hutsell says he also has a hobby to fall back upon to ease any stress. He is an avid guitar player, having taken lessons the past five years.
"I find it relaxing to grab the guitar and start playing," says Hutsell. "It's something I enjoy doing."
If Hutsell's game is in tune as well, it may be a sweeter visit to the Season's Final Major.