A range of emotions for PGA Professionals headed to Hazeltine
By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer- PGA.com
Editor's note: Each week leading into the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club, PGA.com will profile some of the 20 PGA Professionals who qualified based on their respective top-20 finish at the 42nd PGA Professional National Championship in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M. This is the third installment of the Drive to the PGA Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz.
MAKING IT LOOK EASY: Scott Hebert, the PGA Head Professional at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Mich., has made three appearances in the PGA Professional National Championship. All three have resulted in trips to the PGA Championship.
While on paper it might seem like a breeze for the 40-year-old to earn a spot in Glory's Last Shot, this time around at the Twin Warriors Golf Club in New Mexico was far from it.
Hebert came into New Mexico as the defending National Champion following an emotional win at Reynolds Plantation in 2008. He looked to pick up right where he left off too, firing a 5-under 66 in the first round at Santa Ana to talk sole possession of the lead.
A 5-over 76 at Twin Warriors in the second round put Hebert just two shots inside the cut line heading into the final two days of competition. After a steady even-par 71 in the third round, Hebert shot a 2-under 69 in the final round for a 2-under total, a tie for 16th and a spot in the eight-man playoff for five spots at Hazeltine.
The 69 was great, but it was tough to swallow as well, seeing as a bogey on the final hole had Hebert sitting on pins and needles waiting to see if his work was good enough to sneak into a playoff. Once he was in, Hebert took care of business and is now headed to Minnesota.
"Heading to the PGA Championship as a former National Champion gives your confidence a boost and a little bit of credibility as a player, however the reality is I am a club professional playing against the best in the world," Hebert said. "My job is to grow my club and the game of golf. On the other side of the coin, I'll be tied for the lead on Thursday morning."
Hebert's reality -- being a club professional -- is the same reality for his 19 fellow PGA Professionals who also qualified. Because of their dedication to their craft, finding time to work on their own respective game isn't easy to come by.
"Practice? What's that?" Hebert joked recently. "It seems the only time I see the practice tee is to give a lesson. Often when I return my members ask me when I find time to practice? The next two weeks are the busiest of the year with back-to-back ladies and men's invitationals. After that, maybe I'll have a few days of practice."
Despite a lack of practice, Hebert still has lofty goals for Hazeltine.
"There's anticipation," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing well in a PGA rather than just playing."
THIS IS A FIRST: To say Todd Lancaster is a little excited for the PGA Championship is a huge understatement.
Lancaster, 30, is the PGA Assistant Professional at Westwood Country Club in Rocky River, Ohio. He tied for eighth in the PGA Professional National Championship to earn a berth at Hazeltine to compete in his very first major championship.
"I can't wait," he said. "It's going to be an experience I will never forget. I think I'm most looking forward to being 'inside the ropes' with the players and seeing there routines both on and off the course. Standing on the driving range with all those great players will be something I can tell my kids about in the future."
Lancaster was outstanding throughout National Championship week. He entered the final round at 6 under. Although he shot a 2-under 73 on the last day, Lancaster had already done enough to secure his spot in Minnesota.
This was particularly sweet for Lancaster. He had a chance to qualify for the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills last year, but suffered a devastating triple bogey on the 72nd hole to miss out.
"It's been a crazy couple of weeks," Lancaster said. "Heading to New Mexico I had thoughts of last year when I had a chance with one hole left to get in the PGA. I made a triple bogey and thought about that for a long time. This year I had a chance to win with 4 holes left and didn't. As I walked off the 18th hole this year I was disappointed until I got handed the registration packet for the PGA Championship. My disappointment was gone."
Since returning back home, Lancaster has been touched by the support he's received by family, friends, members and staff.
"The membership has been so excited about my accomplishment," he said. "Everyone wants to hear all about it, which makes it hard to get everything done. Of course, it's a problem that I'm glad I have. Finding time to practice has almost been easier because of the support of the staff and members at Westwood Country Club. Everyone is pushing me out of the golf shop to practice. It has been a good time-management practice."
BACK TO THE SHOW: After an uncharacteristic missed cut at the PGA Professional National Championship in 2008, 36-year-old Greg Bisconti had some business he wanted to take care of in New Mexico.
Bisconti, the PGA Assistant Professional at The St. Andrew's Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., finished at 3 under at Twin Warriors to tie for 13th and punch his ticket to Hazeltine.
Bisconti tied for 16th in his National Championship debut at Turning Stone Resort in 2006 and followed that up with a tie for 13th at Sunriver in 2007 to advance to his first two PGA Championships. So, the missed cut in Greensboro, Ga., in 2008 left a sour taste in his mouth, but had him more determined than ever.
"You never know how many opportunities you'll have to play in a PGA Championship so this one is especially sweet since it justifies the other two," he said.
While practice is an issue for Bisconti, he'll be relying on his past PGA Championship experiences to settle in at Hazeltine.
"It's a different experience to say the least," he said. "Fortunately, having played in two other PGA Championships I feel I have some experience as to what to expect which is the biggest adjustment for a club professional. I feel this time I'm more focused on making the cut and performing well as opposed to being awe struck by the grand stage that we'll be playing on."
So what's it been like since earning a spot in the PGA Championship?
"The initial feeling is amazing," Bisconti admitted. "It's hard to describe the sense of satisfaction and pride after playing the PGA Professional National Championship for four days and achieving one of the goals you set forth at the beginning of the week. The members of The St. Andrew's Golf Club where I work, have been so supportive during the whole process and we are all looking forward to Hazeltine."