Rob Labritz discovered early Sunday morning that there is something special for earning the right to play the weekend in the 92nd PGA Championship, and finishing as the Low PGA Club Professional in the Season’s Final Major.
A small present – a pink ribbon – was left in his car as he prepared to drive to Whistling Straits for the final round. It was the gift of one of the neighbors near a home that he rented for the week.
"She knew that one of my friends [Jade Tommeraas, who is in Houston] is struggling with breast cancer," said Labritz. "She also left a shirt for my son, Matthias. Things like that make it so special."
The 39-year-old PGA director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y, who dedicated his play for the week to his stricken friend, closed his third appearance in the PGA Championship by posting a 5-over-par 77 for a 72-hole total of 7-over-par 295. He tied for 68th and earned $14,150.
Though his goal of finishing in the top 15 had bypassed him late in Saturday’s third round, Labritz maintained a smile on his face and the realization that after missing cuts in the 2002 and 2003 PGA Championships, this week was labeled "Progress."
Labritz became the second consecutive Metropolitan PGA Professional to finish as Low Club Professional in the PGA Championship, following Greg Bisconti of South Salem, N.Y., who finished 74th last year.
"The week was great," Labritz said. "You know, beyond expectations. Obviously from No. 9 [where he closed Saturday’s third round with a quadruple bogey-8], I didn't strike the ball as well as I had hoped, but it was great to play with Retief (Goosen), a cool guy, and I enjoyed the golf course. Again, it was just an awesome experience."
Labritz was the lone PGA Club Professional, among a 20-member contingent representing 13 states, who earned the right to compete in the final two rounds at Whistling Straits.
The previous seven years Labritz had gone through personal issues that included a divorce, and had renovated his golf swing with the help of PGA Master Professional Tom Willson of Bonnie Briar Country Club in Larchmont, N.Y.
"Tom is the man," said Labritz. "He has been able to help me in many ways. I have worked on changing my ball flight and it has made all the difference. I feel good about what lies ahead for me."
Willson, who had been following Labritz throughout the week, said that he is optimistic about his student’s playing future.
"Rob is one of the best ballstrikers out here this week, and I mean that," said Willson, who has worked with Labritz for a decade. "I’ve told him that ‘you are a great player in spite of your swing, not because of your swing.’ We have worked hard on his swing plane and rebuilt it. He used to be steep and we flattened it out, and not using a shut clubface. This was not something you correct overnight."
Labritz said that he made goals of first making the 36-hole cut, then finishing higher. When his disappointing closing hole on Saturday was past him, he decided to "go for broke on Sunday."
"I was hunting flags early today," he said. "I was hitting the shots at the green but unfortunately the greens were not as receptive, a little firmer, and a little faster. I just picked some bad yardages, flew the ball a little too far coming into the greens, and hit it over the greens."
He miscalculated at No. 1 and hit it over the green, making bogey. He didn't carry it far enough at No. 3 and made a double-bogey. He was 10 feet short of the flag on No. 9, but didn't get up and down and made another bogey.
Labritz played Saturday with Rickie Fowler, the up-and-coming rookie star, and Sunday with Goosen, a two-time U.S. Open champion. Labritz said he enjoyed getting to know Fowler and that he and Goosen "chilled out" on Sunday.
Next week, Labritz returns to his home club, and has his sites on next year's PGA Professional National Championship in Hershey, Pa.
"I would like to win the National Championship," said Labritz, before he would stand on the 18th green with newly crowned PGA Champion Martin Kaymer before a national television audience. "Obviously, if I can get back here, I'm going to keep my same goal since I didn't attain it, and go for the top 15.
"Today, you saw how Whistling Straits was meant to play, with the wind blowing hard. That’s what we want to see in a major. It was an honor to represent The PGA of America and all PGA club professionals this week. I rank this week among the top three in my career. The work continues, but I feel better about where I’m headed with my work and my game."