SEASIDE, Calif. – The secret is out about Matt Dobyns, a PGA Professional who was once under the radar in the national spotlight, but whose debut in the 45th PGA Professional National Championship turned into a historic visit to Bayonet Black Horse on the Monterey Peninsula.
The 34-year-old PGA head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, N.Y., completed a stunning four-day run on Wednesday by making a four-foot birdie on the 18th green for a 2-under-par 70 and a record-breaking eight-stroke victory in the showcase event for PGA Professionals. His 13-under-par 275 total made him the seventh member of the Metropolitan PGA Section to capture the National Championship and the eighth player in history to win in his first attempt.
Dobyns capped his week by shattering Sam Snead’s 41-year margin of victory record of five strokes, which he set in 1971.
“I don’t know how that happened,” said Dobyns. “To be mentioned in the same breath with Sam Snead in any comparison is both humbling and exciting.”
Dobyns’ storybook trip would never have happened had he not accepted the fact that his staff could handle the operations while he was out of town. The members at Fresh Meadow Country Club can now plan for a Champion’s reception upon his return.
“It’s the biggest tournament I have ever won, and will probably be the biggest tournament I’ll ever win,” said Dobyns. “I’m trying to cherish each second, because it’s going too quickly.”
Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., who matched the day’s low round of 69, shared runner-up honors at 283 with Kelly Mitchum of Southern Pines, N.C., who closed with a 71.
Perry, the PGA head professional at Crane Lakes Golf Course in Port Orange, had never finished better than a share of 34th in four previous Championship visits, while Mitchum, the PGA teaching professional at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort, recorded his fourth top-10 finish in seven appearances.
Mitchum, 41, said that he had more than a few opportunities to see Dobyns’ talent up close.
“Matt played so solid. We were all playing for second,” said Mitchum. “Matt and I played nine holes in a practice round Friday, and then to get paired with the Champion in the final round is pretty ironic.”
Three-time PGA Professional National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., whose 73 left him alone in fourth at 284. “I fought hard and made it in,” said Small. “He (Dobyns) was sensational.”
Dobyns arrived last Thursday evening on site, played a round at the nearby Black Horse layout, and got in just nine holes at rugged Bayonet, walking the back nine, before the opening round. Perhaps not your optimum practice time for a demanding course ranked No. 21 toughest in the U.S. by Golf Digest.
“This golf course just fit my eye,” said Dobyns. “I had control of my golf swing, and I can’t tell you why. When I got here, I felt in control. The hard shots didn’t feel that difficult. I’m going to look back at the tape, because something has to be different.”
Despite owning a six-stroke lead entering the final round, Dobyns admitted that he had a restless night of sleep.
“I was thinking what it would have taken for me to feel comfortable, and I figured that the margin would have been about 15,” said Dobyns.
Restless or not, Dobyns displayed the same cool that he had the previous 54 holes, and made birdies at the fifth, 10th and 18th holes – the last sealed what was a magical run.
The road to national prominence for Dobyns, according to 1996 National Champion Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y., his longtime mentor and coach at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhasset, N.Y., was “just a matter of time.”
Kestner finished nearly a half hour ahead of Dobyns, turning in a 74 and finishing in 13th place. Kestner earned his 10th trip to the PGA Championship and accomplished a rare feat himself by qualifying for a major championship in five separate decades. Kestner competed in the first of his eight U.S. Opens in 1979, and has made nine PGA Championship appearances prior to this year.
“I’m glad the rest of the golfing community could see what this kid can do,” said Kestner, who hired Dobyns as an apprentice 2009, and continues to coach him today. “For three years at Deepdale, I saw some amazing stuff. I knew that he was one of the best playing club professionals in the country three years ago. For him to finally get his due, I feel very prideful for him.”
The whirlwind Monterey Peninsula visit ended for Dobyns by his cradling the crystal Walter Hagen Cup. He punctuated his performance in the third round with a hole-in-one on the 14th hole at Bayonet and an 18th-hole eagle.
“That’s how the margin got to where it was,” said Dobyns. “Without those two things happening, the margin becomes about two or three strokes. Those things – an ace and an eagle – are really about fate and luck. You do have to put yourself in a position to do it, and it was good to do it while you are on top of the leaderboard.”
The low 20 scorers earned a berth in the 94th PGA Championship, Aug. 9-12, at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C. The Metropolitan PGA Section led with five players of that group.
“I could think of a dozen players who would be able to do as well in this Championship,” said Dobyns. “It is really a remarkable week for me, and I will have to sit back and try to put it into perspective.”
A field of 312 PGA Professionals, representing 42 states and the District of Columbia, began play in the $550,000 Championship. The PGA Professional National Championship is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA, and is the second National Championship to visit Northern California, and first since 1970.