Sheftic, Lippert, Gaffney reveal emotional side of qualifying
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 fourth installment of the Drive to the PGA Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz.
A NICE CONSOLATION PRIZE: Mark Sheftic, a PGA Teaching Professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., might have left the PGA Professional National Championship slightly disappointed.
Making his National Championship debut, Sheftic had a shot to win right up until the final hole. With a bogey on the 72nd hole for a 2-over 73, Sheftic fell into a tie for second, one shot behind the champion, Mike Small.
The defeat was much easier to swallow seeing as it still was more than enough to earn Sheftic a spot in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
"What can I say?" Sheftic said. "But it's a dream come true. It's very emotional because I know how hard it is to get there. It has given me much more confidence in my abilities as a player. I'm very proud to be part of the PGA Championship and looking forward to everything to come."
As excited as Sheftic is, he also knows he won't have a lot of time to prepare for playing on golf's grandest stage.
"My first duty is to teach the members at Merion," he said. "That will not change. I have a limited time to practice because of a very busy teaching schedule. I feel very blessed to be the teaching professional at Merion and I have responsibilities I have to look after. If that means earlier mornings and later nights to get my practice time in, that's what I will do. The Philadelphia Section provides a great tournament schedule to help me prepare. I'll try to play in all the tournaments leading up to the PGA."
All in all, it's safe to say that Sheftic can't wait for PGA Championship week to begin.
"The excitement is hard to express in words," he said. "The greatest satisfaction is knowing all the long hours and hard work has paid off. I'm looking forward to putting my game up with the best in the world and see how I fare."
AN EMOTIONAL TRIP: You'd be hard-pressed to find a person more excited about heading to Hazeltine this year than Eric Lippert.
In fact, Lippert -- whose hobbies include cooking BBQ, eating BBQ and talking about BBQ -- can hardly contain himself after a tie for fourth in the National Championship, which included a tournament-low, 6-under 65 in the third round at Twin Warriors.
"This will be my first PGA Championship," said Lippert, the PGA Assistant Professional at Del Monte Golf Course in Monterey, Calif., part of the Pebble Beach Company. "I hope to qualify for many more but I have the feeling that this one might be the most special being that it's my first. It is also exciting to be able to share this achievement with my wife. She has really supported me and respected my time away at the golf course. What more could you ask for in a spouse? I feel truly lucky to have her on my side and as my partner. She has allowed me to be the best me I can be. This is only the second golf tournament she will have attended and the first time to see me play so she may be more nervous than I am."
With all kinds of support pouring in, there's one person in particular that the 34-year-old Lippert will be missing.
"It's a little bittersweet," Lippert said. "I lost my grandfather last October and I won't be able to share this with him. He got me started playing golf and he would have really been proud of this accomplishment. But so far, it's been one of the most gratifying experiences I've had, to know that the hard work from the past has finally paid off. That is very emotionally satisfying. Like most in the business, playing in a PGA Tour event alone is extraordinary but to have the opportunity to compete in a major is something that is hard to put into words. I think at the end of this season, when business slows and there are no more tournaments left, that's when I will really be able put into perspective what I've accomplished."
NINE YEARS LATER: Brian Gaffney, the PGA Head Professional at Rumson Country Club in New Jersey, first played in the PGA Championship way back in 2000 when it was held at Valhalla Golf Club.
That was the year Tiger Woods earned his second PGA Championship win in a thrilling, three-hole playoff over Bob May. It was also the last time Gaffney, 38, teed it up in the year's final major, earning his spot thanks to a tie for eighth in the PGA Professional National Championship earlier that summer.
Gaffney played in the National Championship again in 2001, where he made the cut, but finished in a tie for 44th. He wouldn't play the National Championship again until this past June at Twin Warriors Golf Club in New Mexico, where he made it clear that despite his long hiatus, he hadn't lost his touch.
Gaffney carded 1-under 70s in each of the last three rounds at Twin Warriors for a 3-under 281 total and a tie for 13th to gain a berth at Hazeltine.
"The goal is to make the cut and make friends and family proud," Gaffney said. "Since earning the spot though, things have been much busier. Members have been asking me why I'm not practicing. The answer is: because I need to be available to them."
What will be the most difficult part about teeing it up for Gaffney at Hazeltine?
"The hardest part about playing in a major is that we never play greens that fast, or in rough that thick," he said.