Bob Denney, PGA of America
BRONXVILLE, N.Y. -- The Wanamaker Trophy was perched on a wooden stand in the main ballroom of Siwanoy Country Club, Aug. 11, just a pitch shot away from the 18th green where a major golf championship was decided nearly 90 years ago.
Four Metropolitan PGA Professionals gathered to commemorate the first PGA Championship, contested Oct. 9-16, 1916, at the Donald Ross-designed course that has retained its early 20th century charm and whose halls once welcomed the founding fathers of The PGA of America, which this year celebrates its 90th anniversary.
The special event, attended by PGA of America Vice President Brian Whitcomb, Metropolitan PGA officials and New York-area media, featured the Metropolitan PGA Section's representatives for this week's 88th PGA Championship at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club. They earned their way to Medinah as part of a 20-member delegation from June's PGA Professional National Championship.
The foursome is led by reigning PGA Professional National Champion Ron Philo Jr. of Westchester, N.Y., the PGA head professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains. Joining him are Greg Bisconti of South Salem, a PGA assistant professional at The Saint Andrew's Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Mark Brown of Oyster Bay, the PGA head professional at Tam O'Shanter Country Club in Brookville; and Craig Thomas of Oceanside, the PGA head professional at The Muttontown Club in East Norwich.
Philo, who will make his seventh PGA Championship appearance, admired the trophy that today is considered one of the honored pieces of hardware in golf. In 1916, it was first presented to Jim Barnes, following his 1-up victory after 36 holes against Jock Hutchison.
"It's a thrill to be sitting here, and a thrill to be going back to another PGA Championship, one of the greatest events in golf," said Philo, a third generation PGA Professional who will have his sister, LPGA star Laura Diaz, caddie for him for a second straight year. "We've been doing this since 1916, and we've got it right to have one of the greatest fields in major championship golf.
"Looking at this trophy, I can remember as a 10-year old walking Congressional Country Club with my father [Ron Philo Sr.] as he competed in the  PGA Championship. Ever since that day, I can remember wanting to compete at that level. I've been very fortunate since coming to the Metropolitan Section to be a part of the history and traditions of the game, such as those at Siwanoy. This area is so rich in tradition, and is backed every day by those that are sitting in this room and those throughout this Section who keep the spirit of the game alive every day."
Whitcomb praised the ability of Siwanoy Country Club to connect its rich history to the early days of The PGA of America.
"When you drive into Siwanoy Country Club, you can't help but feel that you are in a special place," said Whitcomb. "The founding fathers of The PGA of America believed that, too. And, as history would attest, they staged a very successful first PGA Championship. We are delighted that we have four great representatives from the Metropolitan Section, which represent one-fifth of the total PGA Professionals that will compete in the season's final major. We're proud of the way these professionals represent our Association, conduct themselves off the course and carry on the mission of our founders who 90 years ago set the mission to promote participation in the game and elevate the standards of the profession.
"The gentlemen here today, and all those representing The PGA of America next week at Medinah, not only plan for this major championship but also return to their clubs to be outstanding teachers of the game."
Philo reflected on a piece of Championship coincidence that he experienced with the Wanamaker Trophy.
"I'm privileged to represent Metropolis Country Club and looking at the trophy up close, I noticed Paul Runyan's name (1934 and 1938). At that time, he represented Metropolis Country Club."
Bisconti, 33, will be making his PGA Championship debut after earning a berth thanks to a birdie in a playoff following his first appearance in the PGA Professional National Championship. He will have his son, Kevin, 16, serving as caddie. It doesn't matter that Kevin is a tennis player, said Bisconti, who said that he would feel more comfortable with a family member on his bag.
"Earning a berth in the PGA Championship, I have chills going through my body," said Bisconti. "I'm realizing a dream that I've had as a kid playing in a major championship and to be representing 28,000 men and women professionals in the PGA Championship."
In preparing for next week's PGA Championship, the four PGA Professionals reflected the preparation of many of their Tour counterparts. They all got in practice rounds at Medinah in the past three weeks.
Brown, who makes his third PGA Championship appearance at Medinah, also advanced through the playoff in the PGA Professional National Championship.
"I felt fortunate to get into a playoff ]for a PGA Championship berth], and didn't bring my 'A' game," said Brown, "but, Greg and I held it together and were lucky to be one of four from the Met Section and one of the 20 in the country to represent our PGA Professionals. It should be a fun week. The golf course is pretty fair. There's a lot of length to it [Medinah], but I think that if you can drive it straight, it should be a pretty good week."
Thomas, who will be competing in his third consecutive PGA Championship, said the practice rounds he played beginning in 2004 at Whistling Straights through this year at Medinah, proved invaluable.
"It was a great experience for us to all get to know what we can expect before we step to the first tee during Championship week," said Thomas. "Many of us have friends on Tour, and we have arranged to get to play with them at some point in practice. Mark Brown is friends with Olin Browne, and I'm friends with Mark Calcavecchia. I know that when I made it to Whistling Straits in 2004, it was very beneficial for me to get there early.
"You know, unless you can understand and prepare, the whole experience is like the circus has come to town. It's normally that nobody asks me for an autograph unless I'm signing a check, but at the PGA Championship it's different. The practice rounds that we got in gave us a chance to see the course, to learn a lot about what to expect. The Tour professionals you meet have been great to us, and treat us very well when we meet in the locker room."
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, The PGA of America was founded in 1916, and is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the game of golf while continuing to enhance the standards of the profession. The Association is comprised of more than 28,000 men and women PGA Professionals who are dedicated to growing participation in the game of golf.
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