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Chris Starkjohann
Chris Starkjohann of California finds himself tied for seventh after rounds of 71 and 68. (Pritchard/The PGA of America)

PGA Club Professionals relish experience of lifetime

Of the 40 PGA Professionals who teed off Thursday, 10 made the cut. Some, like Chris Starkjohann, are in position for a big weekend, but all of them tried to make the most of their week.

John Kim, Turner Sports PGA.com Coordinating Producer

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Chris Starkjohann, a PGA Teaching Professional from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., got a good call around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Jim Dent had withdrawn from the 70th Senior PGA Championship and Starkjohann, a teaching professional at Torrey Pines Gold Club and Outings, was the next on the alternate list. He showed up at Canterbury Golf Club Wednesday afternoon, got out on the course for some practice (but wasn't able to get a full practice round in), and teed it up on Thursday, his third attempt in this major championship.

Thursday's 71 put Starkjohann in good position to make his first cut at the Senior PGA Championship, but Friday's 68 has him in prime position for something more.

"You know, the first goal for us club pros is to make the cut," he noted. "I look at it, you know, we play one hole at a time and trying to make pars. And I know pars are good out here."

Starkjohann birdied his second hold of the day but then struggled with three bogeys by the time he reached the eighth tee box. Knowing that his opportunity to make the cut was in jeopardy, he told his wife Tracy (who also serves as his caddie) that he needed to hang in there and be a little less aggressive.  He then proceeded to birdie six of the final 10 holes.  So much for a little less aggressive.

Asked if he now had higher aspirations for the championship now that making the cut was assured, Starkjohann declined to jump too far ahead.

"Still going to just trust in the Lord and where the ball goes, it goes. Just have fun," he said.  "The hard part is over right now. Really. It's all gravy."

James Blair, a PGA Life Member, shot 71-72 to make it to the weekend as he stands tied for 27th.

"Yeah, I played pretty well," said Blair. "I try not to have any expectations before or even during the tournament, just want to play as well as I can.  I have my son with me caddying, helping me read greens, so we're having a good time."

In total, 10 of the 40 PGA Club Professionals who entered the Senior PGA Championship made the cut. And for many of them, Friday was as much about celebrating the experience of major championship golf as much as a competitive round of golf.

For Cleve Coldwater, the PGA Head Professional at Glenamaura National Golf Club in Moosic, Penn., Cleveland at times felt more like "Cleve" land. Coldwater had a boisterous following throughout his round as he flirted with the cut line until a late double bogey on hole No. 16 ended his chances.

"My family, my in-laws, some friends of ours," he remarked about the strong gallery support, "it was one of the reasons I wanted to get here -- so my friends and family could be a part of this. I almost pulled it off, came up just short, but I really enjoyed my time here, enjoyed the experience and hope I get to come back and be a part of another one soon."

Coldwater also relished the opportunity to play alongside many of the icons of golf.

"Any time you get an opportunity to play golf in a major championship, to compete against people who will be talked about forever in the game of golf, that can't be all bad."

Roy Vucinich, a PGA Life Member from Moon Township, Penn., has now competed in 12 Senior PGA Championships, but said the experience remains special and an honor.

"Cleveland is a great area, the golf course is a fabulous golf course, I'm certainly pleased I was able to qualify and play," Vucinich remarked after his second round. "I'm not very pleased with how I played, but being a part of this is always a tremendous time."

For PGA Club Professional Mike Malaska, long noted as one of the top teachers in the game, his experience was full of heart-warming and one heart-wrenching moment.

"I knew I needed a birdie on the final hole," the PGA Director of Instruction at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Apache Junction, Ariz., and Nicklaus Golf Academies Worldwide, "hit a good shot to the center of the green, came up about an inch short on the putt."

But Malaska will take away a number of gratifying memories as well. 

"I had my daughter caddying for me.  She is a golfer at the University of Arizona, but she may never get a chance to experience something like this. A major championship venue with these crowds and this kind of pressure; that's a tremendous opportunity for the both of us."

 

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