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Robert Gibbons, Greg Norman
Robert Gibbons of Oregon enjoyed some high-profile company during his Saturday round. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Surviving PGA Professionals focusing on fabulous finish

For the 10 PGA Club Professionals who made the cut, the weekend might seem like finally time to relax. But while they're enjoying themselves, they all want to end their week on a high note.

John Kim, Turner Sports Coordinating Producer

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Earlier in the week, Robert Gibbons, the PGA Head Professional at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Ore., told that he was trying to keep his expectations tempered as he entered his first Senior PGA Championship. After all, he hadn't been playing too much following the Oregon winter, his regular job kept him off the golf course and he was unsure of how he'd react to the pressure of this major championship.

Gibbons' experience thus far here at Canterbury Golf Club has not only exceeded his hopes but perhaps surpassed his most imaginative scenarios. He was one of only 10 PGA Club Professionals to make the cut, he's played three solid rounds at one of the most historic and challenging venues in golf and he's playing in front of the largest gallery on the golf course. Of course, his playing partners could have had something to do with that. Gibbons was paired with golf icons Greg Norman and Hale Irwin in Saturday's third round.

"The first tee was really kind of tough," he said about the large, raucous gallery. "But after that, I tried to stay calm and just go through my routine -- to hit it in the fairway and tried to hit the green."

Gibbons held his own with the 75 while Norman and Irwin fired 73s. And though he still has an important round to go, his experience Saturday provided enough memories for a lifetime.

"Yeah, it was very -- you know -- you can't dream up playing with Norman and Irwin on a Saturday game," he laughed.

Other PGA Club Professionals living out their dream included Chris Starkjohann. The Teaching Professional from Torrey Pines Golf Club and Outings carded a wild 72 and is tied for 10th heading into the final round.

"It was either feast or famine," he said of a round that included only one par on the front nine and five pars overall, six birdies, six bogeys and one double bogey. "I either hit it really good and then made the putt or I'd miss the fairway by just a little bit and then unable to get up and down to save it."

Starkjohann, who credits a new perspective on life for salvaging his golf career.

"It's not me, it's God. It's basically just trusting in him and having fun," he noted. "Early in my career, I was just too serious. Now it's the little things in life -- not just golf. I have a foster daughter now, Victorya -- and being a dad at 50, that's life-changing right there."

James Blair, a PGA Life Member from Ogden, Utah, continued his steady play with 1-over 71 and is tied for 23rd heading into Sunday.

"I played a few events, Section events earlier this year, in March and April so I wouldn't totally embarrass myself, but I'm holding up all right," Blair said after his round. "Hopefully, I'll have a good round tomorrow."

Some of the club professionals have shared that even if they aren't the biggest draws for the gallery here at Canterbury, they are getting great support from their friends, family and members back at their home courses.

"I've had a few texts and talked to a few people," said Jim White, a PGA Master Professional and Director of Golf at Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb.  "Everybody was kind of playing early yesterday (back at Wilderness Ridge) and then just hanging around all day waiting to see if I made the cut."

White, who shot a third-round 75, has plans for a strong final round.

"It would be nice to get it under par once out here," he said. "I think it's doable. It's very tough and the greens are really tough, but if you keep the ball in play and you hit a few quality shots out there, which I have every day, I could have easily got it under today with putting a little better."

Last year's low club professional, Bill Britton, has rebounded from an opening 75 to shoot two consecutive even-par rounds of 70. 

"It was a very nice distinction to be the low club professional last year, and it's very nice of the PGA to promote that, but I don't think about that," he said. "I just want to play my best and finish as high as I can on the leaderboard."

Starkjohann, who leads all the PGA Club Professionals for the honor of being low club professional in the field, says that good golf will take care of all the awards he could be eligible for this week.

"I want to shoot under par tomorrow," he said. "If I do that, I think that will be good enough."

The low PGA Club Professional will be presented a trophy on the 18th green alongside the tournament champion after play ends on Sunday.

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