By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
MEDINAH, Ill. -- Nineteen club professionals are in the field here at Medinah Country Club for the 88th PGA Championship. All of them are here by virtue of a top-20 finish at the 39th PGA Professional National Championship at the Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y., back in June.
Leading the way for the club professionals during Thursday's first round was Greg Bisconti from the Metropolitan PGA Section, where he is the assistant professional at The St. Andrew's Golf Club in Hastings On Hudson, N.Y. He fired an impressive 2-under-par 70 in the opening round that had him five shots off the lead and in a tie for 21st in his first-ever major championship. He was actually tied for the lead at one point early on at 3-under.
"I got it to 3-under and I saw my cousin out there and made sure that he snapped a picture of the leader board, because you never know if you're going to get back there," Bisconti said. "Honestly, it didn't faze me in having my name up there. I understand that this is the PGA Championship, but to me it's just another golf tournament.
"I'm just trying my best to compete as well as I can and stay out of my own way," he added. "It was fun to stay up there [among the leaders] most of the day."
The lone blemish on Bisconti's scorecard was a bogey at the 471-yard, par 4 12th hole.
"I hit a good drive at the 12th, and it came just after we crossed paths with Tiger [Woods], when he was going down 15, and that whole circus left the tee box, so I was a little bit nervous on that tee. I hit a great drive down the right side and had an 8-iron in, and kind of held on to it a little bit. It wasn't a bad shot, and I had a real easy chip and I misjudged it. It didn't release the way I wanted it to."
Jim Kane (Oak Tree Country Club, Midwest Section), Don Yrene (Head Professional at the Golf Club of Scottsdale, Southwest Section) and Kelly Mitchum (Assistant Professional at Pinehurst, Carolinas section) were next best amongst the club professionals. All three posted a 1-under-par 71.
"It was great, I couldn't have dreamt it any better," Kane said. "Just had a little hiccup on 18 [a bogey], but other than that I was really proud of myself."
"I struck the ball really solid throughout the whole round," Yrene said. "It was one of my more consistent ballstriking rounds, ever."
Surprisingly, National Championship winner Ron Philo Jr. -- the head professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., also in the Metropolitan Section -- had the worst first-round in the field. Largely because of a quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 second hole and a triple-bogey 6 on the par-3 17th hole, Philo finished with a 10-over-par 82 and is in 156th place.
Philo made the cut at Baltusrol in 2005 and finished in a tie for 66th with his sister Laura Diaz, a member of the LPGA Tour, on the bag. Diaz was on the bag again here at Medinah, but the brother-sister duo couldn't get anything going.
University of Illinois golf coach Mike Small, a local favorite who won the National Championship in 2005 and finished fourth this year, carded an even-par 72 in the first round. It was his best opening round in the three PGA Championships he's played.
Earning a spot in the field meant a lot to Small, seeing as he'd be able to play a major championship on home soil. The experience was made even more special as Small was able to hit the very first shot of the tournament at 7:30 a.m.
"I'm taking it as a pretty big honor," Small said of hitting the tournament's first shot. "I don't know how it was intended. I haven't talked to anybody, but I know in the past they've done things like that and I'm going to take it as an honor. I feel privileged to play first and I was happy for a good tee time and the greens were good."
Here is a look at how all 19 of the club professionals fared:
Greg Bisconti - 70 (-2)
Jim Kane - 71 (-1)
Don Yrene - 71 (-1)
Kelly Mitchum - 71 (-1)
Mike Small - 72 (even)
Steve Schneiter - 72 (even)
Lee Rinker - 72 (even)
Chris Wiemers - 73 (+1)
Jerry Haas - 74 (+2)
Alan Schulte - 75 (+3)
Craig Thomas - 76 (+4)
Tim Weinhart - 77 (+5)
Jeffery Cranford - 77 (+5)
John Aber - 78 (+6)
Sam Arnold - 78 (+6)
Chip Sullivan - 79 (+7)
Barry Evans - 81 (+9)
Mark Brown - 80 (+8)
Ron Philo Jr. - 82 (+10)
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