Several PGA Professionals battling to make cut
By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Five of the 20 PGA club professionals competing in this week’s 95th PGA Championship battled through Thursday’s rain-delayed opening round to leave themselves with an opening to achieve a cherished goal – making the 36-hole cut.
The respective adventures took divergent paths as rain stopped play for just over an hour at Oak Hill Country Club, and several players were charging home in the darkness.
J.C. Anderson of St. Louis, Mo.; Danny Balin of Rockville, Md.; Ryan Polzin of Houston, Texas; Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn.; and Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, each posted a 3-over-par 73 on the rugged East Course.
Bob Gaus of St. Louis and David McNabb of Newark, Del., each shot 74; and Caine Fitzgerald of Parker, Colo., David Muttitt of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Mark Sheftic of Blue Bell, Pa., are another stroke back at 75.
Anderson, 51, a PGA teaching professional at Missouri Bluffs Golf Club in St. Charles, Mo., made his return to Oak Hill after competing in the 2003 Championship. He knocked home a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to give himself a chance for the weekend.
“With that crowd behind 18, yeah, that was a good feeling,” said Anderson. “I hit a good drive and a really good 5-iron in there. Somehow must have misread the putt, because it went in, too.”
It was a disappointing day for reigning PGA Professional National Champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., who struggled home with a 78. Three-time National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., was at 76.
“I got off to a less-than-desirable start,” said Perry. “I bogeyed 1 and really sprayed the ball left and right. Obviously you can't do that here. The rough is extremely penalizing. It's a very, very difficult golf course. Obviously the goal for the PGA and for major championship golf is to separate the good and the bad. That is exactly what they are going to get with this type of set-up. Tomorrow, I just want to have some better swing thoughts than I did today.”
Balin, 30, a PGA assistant professional at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., overcame a double bogey-bogey start in his fourth consecutive PGA Championship. He hit only half of the 14 fairways.
“The nerves always get to you starting the round, so I didn’t begin the way that I wanted to, but came back and played pretty well the last 15 holes,” said Balin. “The past two years, I kind of played my way out of it. This year, I wanted to give myself a chance going into the second round, which I've done.
“Today, I had a couple three-putts, which I'm not very happy about, missing a couple short ones. But overall, I played well. It’s my best score in the PGA [Championship] so far, and I feel a lot more comfortable out there. Hopefully, I can get out there tomorrow and get it done.”
Kirk Hanefeld, 57, a PGA Life Member from Acton, Mass., and the senior member of the 20-player delegation, was among the seven tied at 6-over-par 76.
Hanefeld made his first PGA Championship start in 23 years, arrived at Oak Hill having had his “baptism” on the East Course in the 2008 Senior PGA Championship. Competing this week against the younger talented players in the world, Hanefeld did not need a tutorial on where the pitfalls await a golfer on the Donald Ross-designed gem.
“I’m going at all these holes with a lot of club,” said Hanefeld. “I hung in there as long as I could. I really made a lot of mistakes, didn’t putt that well, and I’m not happy with 76, but hopefully it will be better tomorrow. I made double [bogey] on the ninth, my last hole of the day. I got hung up in the rough and couldn’t advance it very far. I hit a wedge that came all the way back off the green down the hill.”
“This is one of the best golf courses anywhere,” said Hanefeld, who made his second PGA Championship start and first since the 1990 Championship at Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. “It is very difficult and you have to understand that from the start. In 2008, I played with (Greg) Norman on Saturday and (Tom) Watson on Sunday. To play this golf course in that environment, well, I hope that it was something that I could use coming back here and build upon.”
Sowards, 45, a PGA teaching professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, is attempting to make his first PGA Championship cut in seven attempts dating back to 1997.
“It's a little tight starting out, being nervous, but birdieing the first hole is kind of cool,” said Sowards. “I just made too many bad swings. Every time you make a mistake here, you get penalized so I got penalized quite a bit. I made three birdies, which was nice. Three-over was not the worst score that I could have shot. My short game was good; I just need to hit it a little more solid tomorrow.”
It was a bittersweet day for Rob Labritz of Pound Ridge, N.Y. Given the honor of hitting the first tee shot in the Championship at 7:10 a.m., Labritz posted a 78, only after rallying for an even-par 35 effort on the back nine.