Merion's Sheftic having fun after hosting Open
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
SUNRIVER, Ore. – Playing in the PGA Professional National Championship can bring upon a lot of stress. There’s just so much to think about. Stuff like, well, becoming the National Champion; finishing in the top 20 to earn a spot in the field at the PGA Championship; and the possibility of representing your country in the biennial PGA Cup.
Mark Sheftic – who has already checked off two of those in past years, the lone omission being “National Champion” – came to Sunriver Resort this year probably feeling a little less stressed and a lot more inspired than most.
Things couldn’t get more hectic for Sheftic than they were two weeks ago. The 38-year-old is the PGA Teaching Professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Yes, that Merion, the one that just played host to the 113th U.S. Open.
“Hectic is the right word,” Sheftic said. “But, you have to say this, everyone that works at Merion and the members, it was a hectic week for us all. Being out here it’s almost like a vacation. I don’t know if I want to say it that way, because it’s still a lot of stress. But it’s fun to get out here and play some golf.”
And is Sheftic ever having fun. After shooting a 3-under 69 Sunday – a spectacular score at the difficult Crosswater Club – he backed it up with a 4-under 67 at the Meadows on Monday. Through two rounds of the PNC, Sheftic is at 7-under, 136 total and tied for second just one shot behind leader Rod Perry.
“I think I’m making good decisions and good swings,” said Sheftic, who tied for second in the 2009 PNC and finished alone in third in 2010. “You never know what’s going to happen. There were some great scores out there (Meadows) yesterday and I knew that they were going to be playing Crosswater today, which is more difficult and the wind was picking up a little bit.
“My only agenda is to worry about me. If some other guy goes out and shoots another 8 under par to get to 16 under then my hat’s off to him. All I can do is control myself. It’s fun to be back in this position and we’ll see what happens.”
Sheftic said that the conditions Monday were similar to what he experienced on Sunday. Through the first nine holes, there was a steady rain, even pouring at times. But once he made the turn, the rain stopped and it was about as pleasant as a 50-degree, cloudy day can be.
“The greens were a little soft and there wasn’t much wind,” he said. “Because I was hitting a lot of fairways, I could be a little more aggressive on some pins since I didn’t really have to worry about the ball getting away from me. The key to the first two rounds for me was that my tee ball and the distance control with my irons were fantastic. I’ve been getting the ball around pin-high.”
All told, Sheftic’s second round was a four-birdie, no-bogey effort. His birdies came on Nos. 10 and 14 (his first and fifth holes of the day) and Nos. 2 and 5 (his 11th and 14th holes of the day). For good measure, he holed a testy 12-footer to save par on his final hole.
“On the last hole there, I hit a hybrid off the tee,” Sheftic explained. “It was 268 to the bunker. I wanted to take that bunker out of play, so I hit a hybrid, which was about 255 off the tee. It eliminated the bunker. For the second shot I was in between clubs. I tried to force a 9-iron. It felt a little downwind. The pin was plus-13, so anything past the pin is probably not good when it’s plus-13. So I tried to step on a 9-iron and ended up hitting it a shade heavy, so it was the wrong club.
“The par putt was from about 12 feet and it was a good putt. I guess you could say it was a bit of a boring round. I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of opportunities. I knew going into today that I could make up some ground.”
Sheftic admitted that he felt inspired coming into this week after watching the world’s best players at Merion in the U.S. Open. Sheftic worked the driving range all week and couldn’t help but think to himself, “man, I wish I could hit some golf balls.”
“I was working the range, pretty much a gopher that week, and I just wanted to hit a golf ball,” he said. “This here is our championship and when I’m swinging the club the way I’m swinging it, I think my game can compete up here. It’s going to be fun going into the next couple of days with some phenomenal players, win, lose or draw. We play this game to compete. I get to compete against a lot of great players and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Overall, Sheftic said the U.S. Open experience is one he’ll never forget. For starters, the planning was more than anything he’d ever imagined.
“I didn’t have any idea about the infrastructure,” he said. “My God! It was a two-year process. Especially going into this year, the amount of tents they put up, I don’t even know where to start. But you get a respect for any golf tournament and the amount of work and planning that goes into getting ready for something like that. In 1981, Merion had 500 volunteers for the U.S. Open. In 2013, we had 5,000 volunteers. So that kind of sums it up right there… I wasn’t a teaching professional that week, but it was an experience I’m going to cherish the rest of my life. I was involved in a U.S. Open with a great team.”
Justin Rose won the U.S. Open at 1 over par. Before the tournament started and as the course was getting hammered with rain, many thought the world’s best players would eat the course alive with possibly record-low U.S. Open scores.
Sheftic, who knows Merion as well as anyone, said he’d be lying if he didn’t admit he was one of those people who thought for sure that scores would be low given the conditions.
“I lost a lot of money,” teased Sheftic. “I’m telling you right now. I had $20 bets flying. I started to make phone calls, because when it rained, Ian Poulter started out birdie-birdie-birdie and I started to Facebook and make calls and asked, ‘who wants to go $20 that it’s going to go 10 under or above?’ Boy, was I wrong. I was 100 percent wrong. The course won. The thing that I like is, it stood the test of time. It played at about 6,800 yards almost every day. What that tells you is you don’t need an 8,000-yard golf course to be a great golf course. One thing that’s great about Merion is that when you play Merion, every club gets dirty. I think that makes a great golf course.”