By Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
KOHLER, Wis. -- Maybe it’s the Pete Dye influence that's helping the 20 PGA Club Professionals in the field for this week's PGA Championship.
They qualified for the tournament earlier this summer via their performance at the PGA Professional National Championship, which was held at the Pete Dye-designed course at the French Lick Resort in Indiana. Perhaps their Dye-based mojo is continuing at Whistling Straits, another Dye design, at this week's PGA Championship.
While none of the PGA Professionals who was able to finish his round before play was halted by darkness broke par, several played their way into contention to make the cut -- something only three were able to do a year ago.
“I think it's a big advantage to be able to come from French Lick and come here,” said Keith Ohr of Louisville, Ky., who opened with a 78. “A lot of similarities, tough off the tee. So I felt like we had a real advantage after playing that course a month ago. Just have to play good golf.”
Two PGA Professionals shot 1-over 73: Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., and Ron Labritz of Pound Ridge, N.Y. Scott Hebert of Traverse City, Mich., and Rich Steinmetz of Gilbertsville, Penn., both opened with 75s and Kyle Flinton of Oklahoma City shot 76.
“Overall, I felt real comfortable out there,” said Labritz, who is playing in his third PGA Championship. “I struck the ball good. Made some nice putts. I like the golf course.”
Skinner, playing in the PGA Championship for the second time, was 3 over par after four holes, but steadied himself by chipping in for par on the seventh hole. He fought back to even par with a birdie at No. 14, but bogeyed the 18th.
“I think getting a little bit of rest and having one round under my belt is going to be good,” Skinner said. “I'm going to go out and do the same things tomorrow.”
Hebert, who is not related to former PGA Championship winners Lionel and Jay Hebert, had a difficult back nine, where he couldn't find the fairway. He battled back to par, but made bogeys at 14, 15 and 16.
“I just hit three loose shots and that's all it takes,” Hebert said. “It's such a fine line here.”
Steinmetz started on the back nine and made the turn in 35, including back-to-back birdies at No. 16 and 17. Two bogeys and a double bogey, largely because of some missed putts, led to a 40 on the last nine.
Flinton had the wildest day of all. Starting on the back nine, he birdied the three of the first four holes and was on the scoreboard as the tournament leader. The fun didn't last; he bogeyed four of the final holes and finished the first nine with a 37.
“I got off to a strong start and three-putting 15, hit a bad shot on 17 and 18 kind of hurt on that side,” he said. “But all in all, not too upset.”