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PGA Golf Professional Mike Small is competing in his fourth straight PGA Championship. (Photo: PGA of America)
PGA Golf Professional Mike Small is competing in his fourth straight PGA Championship. (Photo: PGA of America)

PGA Golf Professionals acquit themselves well

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Two PGA Golf Professionals will continue their play into the weekend, but all 20 that made the trip to Tulsa will cherish their experience as representatives of their association and as competitors on golf's grandest stage.

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

TULSA, Okla. - Coming into the 89th PGA Championship, with the strongest field in golf converging on the year's final major, all 20 of the PGA Golf Professionals competing in the tournament knew that their hopes and expectations for their performance during the tournament to be - at best - an unlikely goal.

But there will be two of the PGA Golf Professionals that will continue their dream week into the weekend, as they tamed the demanding Southern Hills Country Club layout enough to make the cut.

Mike Small, a PGA Golf Professional and men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, shot one of the best rounds of the day as he shot an even-par 70.

"It feels good," Small said about his performace on the blistering hot day.

Small, who earlier in the week had competed and won the Illinois Open (his third win in a row and fourth overall in the event), extended his already grueling week by comfortably making the cut.

"It's a blessing," he answered when asked if staying around for two more days could be taxing after his hectic schedule and the record-high temperatures in Tulsa. "It's what I came for."

Also making the cut was Ryan Benzel, a PGA Golf Professional from Seattle Country Club, who is competing in his first PGA Championship.

"I feel pretty good," Benzel said, "though I'm a little tired right now.

"I just gotta keep doing what I'm doing. I didn't hit the ball very well today but I was able scramble really well and keep making pars. I think pars out here are good."

As for making the cut, Benzel hopes it resonates that the PGA Golf Professionals in the field are elite players as well.

"I hope that we're able to keep the 20 spots available for PGA Professionals in the field," Benzel added. "If a guy like me can finish high up on the leaderboard, I think that should show that we deserve to be here. It is run by our organization so I hope they keep our spots open. And by guys finishing high in the field, that's the way to do it."

Brad Lardon, who shot the row round of any PGA Golf Professional in the first round, suffered a heart-breaking bogey on the final hole in the second round to miss the cut by one stroke.

"That's devastating of course," Lardon said, "but what a great week it was here. I can't hide the disappointment in today's round, but when I look back, it will be some great memories. I've often said that the PGA Professionals are the link between the TOUR and golf at the local level and you saw that when we are on our game, we can play and play at a top level. Anyone of the 20 of us could have made the cut if we were on our games."

Lardon's heartbreak meant he was one of the 18 PGA Golf Professionals that saw their week come to an end. And though all were disappointed, they will take back a lifetime worth of experiences and memories.

"This is definitely the hardest course I've ever played," claimed Eric Wolf, a PGA Teaching Professional at The College Golf Center in Palm Desert, Calif.

Wolf, playing in his first PGA Championship, shot 83-77 and missed the cut -- but learned a valuable lesson that will serve him well in his golf career.

"On one hand, these guys out here (the TOUR players), they're not here by accident. There's a reason they're here. But on the other hand, I'm not here by accident either. I'm not going to be hard on myself but this makes me want to work on improving my game and my fitness so if I get another chance to come out here, I'll be better prepared.

Don Yrene, the PGA Head Professional at The Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. and the low scorer among PGA Golf Professionals at last year's PGA Championship, endured an uncharacteristic 80-78 to miss the cut this year, but vowed it would not take away from his appreciation for the chance to compete.

"Playing with these guys", explained Yrene, "being in the locker room and on the practice tee and certainly on the golf course with them, it's a lifetime experience.

"It was such a great time, a great opportunity for me. I really enjoyed the people and the atmosphere, but I'm going to try and forget how I played as fast as I can."

Phil Schmitt, rebounded from a disappointing 79 in the first round to shoot an impressive 68 to almost make the weekend.

"It's a great memory," Schmitt said as he prepared to leave the course. "As much as an honor as it is to play in the PGA Championship, it's as much of an honor to play here at Southern Hills, what a great course with a great membership."

The fraternity of PGA Golf Professionals in the field extended beyond the membership badge they all wore proudly.

Small, who is playing in his fourth PGA Championship, admitted to keeping tabs on how his fellow PGA Golf Professionals fared.

"We are all in the same class," he explained, "and they're my friends. So yeah, I do watch and I'm rooting for them."

Kevin Burton, a PGA Golf Professional that serves as the men's golf coach at Boise State University, missed the cut after rounds of 79-76, also found that the local galleries had long memories.

"Some of them were reminding me about the football game (Boise State defeated Oklahoma 43-42 in the memorable 2007 Fiesta Bowl)," Burton said with a laugh. "I heard a few 'this is Sooner Country'" yells. It was great."

For Small and Benzel, the weekend brings new goals and challenges, and a continuation of the their great time at Southern Hills Country Club.

For the 18 PGA Golf Professionals that are done with their experience with the 89th PGA Championship, it was still a special and memorable opportunity that they will cherish the rest of their lives.

Said Eric Wolf, "I got a taste of my dream. For me to be able to say that I've done this now, that's forever - that's on my tombstone."

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