Ocean Course takes toll on PGA Professionals

By Bob Denney, The PGA of America

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Jostled by wind gusts that exceeded 30 miles per hour, making virtually every putt a struggle, The Ocean Course bared its teeth Friday in the 94th PGA Championship. A delegation of 20 PGA club professionals made a gallant  bid, but each came up short surviving the 36-hole cut in the Season’s Final Major. 

Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, the 2004 PGA Professional National Champion, closed with a 5-over-par 77 and 8-over-par 152 total, which was the lowest among his PGA club professional comrades. However, it was a second consecutive rough ending for Sowards, who missed the cut by two strokes in his sixth PGA Championship appearance. Last year, he came up one stroke shy at Atlanta Athletic Club.

“The wind was brutal out there; it was very difficult,” said Sowards, the PGA teaching professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club. “The hardest thing is putting. The greens are so smooth and they're all up, so you have to play wind with putting, and that's the biggest thing. I feel like I gave away four shots putting. It's tough not to three putt out there because it's tough to get it close. I felt like I hit it pretty good, just not good enough.”

Sowards finished a stroke better than Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., who slumped to a 79 and 153 in his 10th round on The Ocean Course after visits in the 2005 PGA Professional National Championship and the 2007 Senior PGA Championship. Three-time National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., was next at 154 after a 78.

Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y., finishing his 18th career major, and Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., tied at 155.

It was Coston’s fourth PGA Championship appearance on a day when the PGA Championship marked the highest single round course scoring average of 78.11.

“I was in my zone, doing what I needed to do,” said Coston, 56. “I felt like I hit the drive decent on No. 16 today, the wind took it hard and obviously some judgment errors with the wind, and obviously that's why the scores got so high. So I made some judgment errors.”

It was more than a humbling two days of play for reigning PGA Professional National Champion Matt Dobyns of Sea Cliff, N.Y., who came into The Ocean Course on a high. He had won the PGA Professional National Championship by a record eight strokes in June in Seaside, Calif. In Dobyns’ first major appearance, he closed with rounds of 81 and 79.

How tough was The Ocean Course, ranked No. 1 toughest in America by Golf Digest?

“This is No. 1 for me,” said Dobyns. “I think the golf course, with the conditions, with the length; really make it, by far, the hardest golf course I've ever played, especially if you factor in the fact that it's a major.”

The 34-year-old PGA head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., was not about to let 36 rugged holes get him down.

“The experience was something I'll never forget,” said Dobyns. “It's obviously not the result that I wanted. I wanted to play better golf. I wanted to make more birdies. I wanted to kind of represent the people that wanted me to do well a little bit better than I did. But, this golf course is very difficult, and playing under the pressure of a major is something that I never experienced before.

“I'm going to take every moment of the week with me and hopefully in the future, if I ever get the opportunity to play again, I'll be a little bit more prepared. The week is magical to me, because it's a lifelong dream to play in a major. It's been a career goal of mine since I've became a PGA pro. And to accomplish that means a lot to me. I’m not happy with the way I finished, where I finished in the field, but I'm going to take the experience in a hundred percent positive light, and I know I learned a lot about myself and how I'll react to different conditions, and I think it's going to help me along the way.”

Small, the University of Illinois men’s coach who made his eighth PGA Championship appearance looked back upon a day of trying to find answers.

“I knew that the wind would be up, but I could not do much because of some errant drives,” said Small, the Low PGA Club Professional in the 2011 PGA Championship. “Starting on 10 today, I bogeyed three of my first four holes and then got the eagle on 16, and got it back to 1-over. I thought that would be something to get me going, but I ended up three-putting 17. Then, I got to 18, had a four-footer for birdie, and missed that. I wasn't playing well enough to compete here, and was struggling with my swing all week. The wind was tough on putting today, but I probably would have shot the same had it been still and perfect out there.”

Morin, a PGA assistant professional at The Falls Country Club in Lake Worth, Fla., was competing in his fifth PGA Championship and is still looking to advance to the weekend’s final two rounds.

“I get over a putt and the wind is jacking me all around. I couldn't really stay still over a putt,” said Morin. “I had a hard time even over shots, it's blowing so hard and then some of the wind, the holes are crosswind and you're just trying to keep it in play. You know, and I hit some good shots and then just got pounded by the wind. I hung in there on the front even though I lost one way right into the wind on one hole and then just a couple    three or four of the bogeys I made today were short putts where the wind was banging me around and I can't stand steady. It kind of hurts because I played good, and to let it slip away like that, because I hung in there, I figured it [the cut] was going to maybe 5 or 6. And I made a good par, a good up and down on 10 and then you know, I made a par on 11. I made a birdie on 12. I think 12 I made a birdie, so I'm like, all right, cool. Let's try and do something and just turn it around.”

Morin said that he was speaking for the 20 PGA club professionals in the field, when he considered the week a special experience.

“It was a huge achievement just to get here, definitely,” he said. “I enjoyed representing our South Florida Section, and hopefully one of these times I'll get through this, but I really like my chances this year. I felt really good coming in here, and just to get smacked around by the wind to ruin my chances kind of bums me out a little bit.”