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PGA Golf Professional Brad Lardon outplayed defending champion Tiger Woods on Thursday. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
PGA Golf Professional Brad Lardon outplayed defending champion Tiger Woods on Thursday. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

PGA Golf Professionals enjoying their experience this week

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Several PGA Golf Professionals got off to excellent starts Thursday and are in good shape to try to make the cut. And though not all of the 20 PGA Golf Professionals played as well as they hoped, all of them relished the chance to be part of the action.

T.J. Auclair and John Kim, PGA.com Producers

TULSA, Okla. -- As everyone knows, life isn't always fair. In fact, it rarely ever is.

Consider the 20 PGA Golf Professionals competing in this week's 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club. They could be found running a golf tournament as often as they'd be found playing in one -- much less, a major championship.

But despite the fact that they practice less than many of the members at their respective clubs, they have been able to distinguish themselves as world-class players. In Thursday's first round, many of them got a chance to further solidify their standing among the world's elite players.

"Overall, I'm pretty happy with how I hit it," said Tim Thelen, the PGA Director of Instruction at Traditions Golf Club at Texas A&M University, after his opening-round 74. "I think I should have scored better. My irons were perfect, but I need to make more putts. But if I come out tomorrow and keep it in the fairway, I've got a good chance to reach my first goal, which is to make the cut."

Ryan Benzel, a PGA Golf Professional at Seattle Golf Club in Seattle, Wash., shot an impressive 71 in the first round of his first PGA Championship.

"Early in the week, I suppose there was something of an intimidation factor," Benzel admitted. "But I tried to get past that quick. It's not always easy to distinguish between being a player and a fan of the game, these are the world's best players, but this week, I'm one of those players. Hopefully, I can keep playing like I did today."

Brad Lardon, the PGA Director of Golf at Miramont Country Club in Bryan, Texas shot the low round of the day among the 20 PGA Golf Professionals, with an even-par 70, which was one shot better than defending champion Tiger Woods.

"I played very well," said Lardon. "If you told me at the beginning of the day that I would have shot even par, I would have taken it."

Still, Lardon saw room for improvement as he heads into the second round.

"There's some mixed emotions because I didn't end the day the way I would have liked," Lardon explained. "I bogeyed the last two holes on each side. I was putting wonderful before that. But even par is a good score, this is a tremendous golf course, and I'm happy to have that.

"This course suits my game well. I'm a control player and you don't have to hit it a long way to score well out here. I thought if I could hit it in play and strategize my way around the golf course, that I could score and be competitive and I was able to do that today."

Lardon also benefited from a great start, punctuated by a birdie on No. 1 after a poor drive.

"I drove it into the rough and had to chip out," he said, "but then knocked my wedge in (from 108 yards) for a 3, so that was kind of a spectacular way to get things started."

While Lardon had the lowest score, perhaps the most impressive of all was Mike Small. Small, the head coach of the men's golf team at the University of Illinois, shot a 3-over-par round of 73.

Remarkably, he didn't arrive in Tulsa until late Wednesday night, meaning he had no practice rounds at Southern Hills this week. There was a good reason for that. Small competed in and won the Illinois Open -- his third in succession and fourth overall.

The Illinois Open ended late on Wednesday because of several weather delays and Small's victory was confirmed for him via cell phone while he was at the airport in a mad dash to Tulsa.

He arrived in Tulsa at 12:45 a.m., checked into his hotel at 1:00, fell asleep at 1:30 and was up by 8:00.

"I'm happy with what happened today, but my swing left me," Small said. "I couldn't hit a fairway coming in."

Small was actually tied for second early on at 3 under through six holes before the fatigue began to set in.

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"I played really good the last six holes and on the first four holes of the front nine [his back nine] I actually struck it pretty good with tap-ins for par. I had a bunch of birdie chances," he said. "I was going along pretty good, but then I hit it in a fairway bunker on No. 5 and made bogey on a par 5, which really stings. ...
I am very tired. I have no regrets. I'm glad I did it."

Some of the PGA Golf Professionals expressed disappointment in their scores but not in their experience.

"I wasn't having fun making bogeys," said Phil Schmitt, the PGA Head Professional at The Bluffs Country Club in St. Francisville, La., "but I'm still very honored to be here and be a part of this tournament."

And though disappointed in his score of 79, Schmitt didn't lose any of his competitive drive.

"I mean, out of everybody that's breathing, these (players) are the best," he said. "Am I supposed to beat these guys? No. But do I want to? Absolutely."

Micah Rudosky, the PGA Head Professional at Conquistador Golf Club in Cortez, Colo., echoed the sentiment.

"I'm very disappointed in how I played," Rudosky said after his 13-over-par 83. "It's hard for me right now because I expected to do better, I expect much more from myself. But at the same time, it is such a thrill to be here, and I'm taking that in and enjoying it. I'd love to be back again."

"It's very difficult to prepare for something like this," Thelen added. "This past Saturday, at 8:00 a.m., I'm out on the lesson tee giving a lesson. At 10 o'clock, I'm giving a playing lesson. That afternoon, I'm able to go home and rest a little bit for the drive up on Sunday. We still have jobs to do. When I get back, I'll have lessons to give and a few days in the shop as well. These other guys, this is their job."

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