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Butch Sheehan
Butch Sheehan, the PGA Teaching Professional at Indian Wells Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., carded a very impressive even-par 70. (Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Several PGA Professionals get off to promising starts

On a beautiful Thursday at Canterbury, PGA Club Professionals like Rob Gibbons, Butch Sheehan and John Aubrey defied the odds and outplayed many of the world’s top senior golfers.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Apparently, Rob Gibbons, the PGA Head Professional at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Ore., didn't get the memo. A club professional -- particularly one that works in Oregon where there is no golf half of the year, one who only plays sporadically, and finally one who is playing in his first Senior PGA Championship – isn't supposed to outplay most of the top senior golfers in the world.

But on a beautiful Thursday outside of Cleveland, Gibbons defied the odds and posted an impressive 1-over 71 at the 70th Senior PGA Championship -- putting him in a tie for 23rd overall after one round.  Gibbons, who posted a better score than his playing partners (and tour veterans) J.C. Snead and and Jim Thorpe, said his plan for the week was simple.

"I tried not to set my expectations too high," said Gibbons. "I was just trying to go out and hit fairways, hit greens, just not make too many mistakes."

Gibbons, however, was not the low round of the day among the 40 club professionals in the field. That honor belonged to Butch Sheehan, the PGA Teaching Professional at Indian Wells Country Club in Indian Wells, Calif., who carded an impressive even-par 70.  Gibbons and fellow PGA Club Professionals James Blair, Chris Starkjohann and John Aubrey are one shot behind Sheehan after the first round.

"Just want to play well," Sheehan stated when asked about his expectations for the week. "I don't think too much about making the cut or finishing in a particular place, just play well and it all takes care of itself."

For many of the club professionals like Sheehan, past experience in a major championship venue was important to calming the nerves and controlling emotions. But for some of the newer players, it was an entry to an unknown environment.

"Awesome," was how Ron Vlosich, a PGA Life member, described his first Senior PGA Championship. "A little bit too difficult for me,” cracked Vlosich, who carded a 79, "but I love playing here."

For PGA Club Professional Mike Borich, the Teaching Professional at Meadow Brook Golf Club in Salt Lake City, Utah, his first experience playing in the Senior PGA Championship brought one other feeling: pain. 

"I've been having a problem with my foot, either a stress fracture or deep bruise," Borich stated after his round. "I had hoped it wouldn't affect me, and in practicing back home, it really had not. Then again, back home, I had a cart to get me around."

But even with a limp and a round of 83, Borich managed a smile and a deep appreciation for the experience.

"Everyone has been so great, I'm really trying to just soak this experience in.  I played with Gil Morgan yesterday and my partners today, Bruce Fleisher, was a charm to be with and Walter Hall was just great.  So I've been very fortunate with my pairing and very pleased to be a part of this."

Mike Malaska, the PGA Director of Instruction at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club and Nicklaus Academies Worldwide, shared that his first Senior PGA Championship was both a great experience as a player but also a valuable learning tool for him as a club professional in the field.

"It's important for teachers to understand how golfers react under pressure," Malaska said after his opening 77, "not just how well someone can fix their swing on the range.  I want to know what their tendencies are in competitive situations." 

Malaska, who turns 55 on Saturday, says that having his daughter caddie for him this week means that this could mean one of the great birthday experiences he's ever had.

"I've got some work to do tomorrow if that's going to happen," he stated, "but I'm having a great time no matter what."

Many of the PGA Club Professionals are in contention to make the cut, pending a good showing in Friday's second round.

Jeff Coston, the Director of Instruction at Semiahmoo Golf Resort in Blaine, Wash., had the line of the day when asked how if he had a number in mind for going low on Friday.

"I might quit after nine holes and go really low," he laughed.

Coston is 5 over after an opening 75.

Thirty-five PGA Club Professionals gained entry into the Senior PGA Championship by virtue of their finish at the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in 2008.  An additional five gained entry as alternates as other players withdrew. The low PGA Club Professional will be honored in a special presentation on the 18th green following the final round.


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