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PGA Professional Bill Britton (right) and Fred Funk practiced together on Wednesday at Canterbury.
PGA Professional Bill Britton (right) and Fred Funk practiced together on Wednesday at Canterbury. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

PGA Club Professionals dealing with more than pressure

The 39 PGA Club Professionals who'll tee off Thursday made their way into the field the hard way. Even harder for most has been balancing their preparation with their many other responsibilities.

John Kim, Turner Sports Coordinating Producer

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- As some of the biggest names in the sport prepare to tee off in search of the most prestigious trophy in senior golf, there is a contingent of players dealing with more than just the pressure to perform on a major championship level. While stars such as Haas, Norman, Watson and Langer consult with agents, sponsors and trainers for their preparation, one group must prepare with an additional group of challenges.

There are 39 PGA Club Professionals, including 14 who are making their Senior PGA Championship debut, competing in the 70th Senior PGA Championship here at Canterbury Golf Club. Each of them views their presence as an opportunity of a lifetime, a culmination of a lot of sweat equity and a testament to their dedication and perseverance to the game they love.

But they each bring another common bond with them -- a job where a concern for other people’s golf games take precedence over their own. From lessons to selling apparel to organizing the member-guest, the life of a club professional is often the furthest thing from major championship golf.

"Teaching," was the one-word answer given by a laughing Jeff Coston, the PGA Teaching Professional at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash., when asked how he had prepared for his third Senior PGA Championship. Coston, who was the low PGA Club Professional at the 2007 Senior PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, did allow that he tried to squeeze in an hour of practice each morning and another in the evenings after work.

"I can't complain, I'm as busy as I can be teaching," he said. "In this day and time, that's a great thing. But it doesn't allow much time to work on certain areas of my game."

"It's very difficult as a club pro to compete in a major championship," explained Thomas Herzan, the Director of Instruction at Findlay Country Club in Findlay, Ohio. "The margin of error is so small and the penalty can be severe."

Herzan does bring with him a significant amount of local support and local knowledge.  He has family and supporters coming in from all parts of Ohio and Minnesota, but even more, he was a teaching professional here at Canterbury in the mid-1980s.

"It's fun to come back," Herzan said of his return. "A lot of the members that were here when I was here, of course, they're not around, but some are -- and I've run into some of them and shared some great memories."

Not that his local experience adds a great advantage or changes his expectation for the championship.

"I think our attitude is to tee it up and hit each shot the best you can," he explained. "You take it one shot at a time and realistically, I'm sure all the club professionals are hoping to make the cut.  And if you play really well for four days, who knows?"

Even some of the most experienced club professionals know that their unique situations create a challenge that is difficult to overlook as they measure their game against the world's best. 

Bill Britton, the low medalist among club professionals at the 2008 Senior PGA Championship, also played on the PGA Tour for 15 years. Obviously, when his game is on, he can compete at the highest levels. But the challenge is getting his game in top form while spending so much time teaching at Twin Brooks Golf Center in Tinton Falls, N.J., where he is the PGA Director of Instruction.

"Work and my family come first," Britton stated resolutely. "I love to play golf, so whatever golf I can get in comes after that. I just have to accept that I'm as well prepared as I can be under the circumstances."

"I try to visualize as much as I can," added Coston. "I look at videos of the 2007 Senior PGA Championship (where Coston finished as Low Club Professional), some videos of past U.S. Senior Opens, anything that puts me in the proper mindset and recaptures that feeling I had when I was playing my best."

Coston added that one of the key differences in tour players and club professionals wasn't the ability to hit shots or putts as it was golf fitness.

"I'm trying to spend time in the health trailer, to get stretched out. Those guys on tour, they don't need that as much, they are already pretty loose. Guys like me, we need a little more help."

But the club professionals in the field also note that the attitude of the fans and other players don't seem to deviate based on their status.

"I've had nothing but very positive experiences (from tour players)," explained Kirk Hanefield, who won the 2008 Senior PGA Professional National Championship -- the national championship of club professionals over the age of 50. "Every one of them has been a gentleman and I think they all understand that everybody out here is trying to do the best they can and to make a living. Everyone respects each other."

Thirty-five PGA Club Professionals earned their way into the 70th Senior PGA Championship by virtue of their finish at the 2008 Senior PGA Professional National Championship, while four additional club professionals got in as alternates.

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