Waking up at the crack of dawn Tuesday to take part in a group photo at Whistling Straits had more than a little significance for Bruce Smith of Frisco, Texas. It was not only a reunion with 19 of his PGA of America peers, but the return to a course that carried a bagful of emotions of six years earlier, when he had made his first journey to the Season's Final Major.
"This was more than just a photo for me, and I think I speak for 19 of my peers," said Smith, the PGA director of instruction at Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas, Texas. "My entire family is with me this time along with my swing coach (PGA Professional Scott Robbins of Dallas). It was very special."
The photo session just off the 18th fairway at the Straits course marked the first time that all PGA Club Professionals gathered to record their appearance in a PGA Championship, a reward for having finished atop the leaderboard in the 43rd PGA Professional National Championship last June at French Lick (Ind.) Resort.
Smith, reigning PGA Professional National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., and Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va., each celebrated a second PGA Championship trip to Whistling Straits. Sullivan, the 2007 National Champion, tied for 31st as the Low Club Professional finisher in 2004.
"Standing next to Mike Small and Tim Thelen (College Station, Texas), two guys who have won five total National Championships in the past 11 years – they are like the Tiger Woods of our group for what they have won," said Smith. "I hope that I have a few more PGA Championships left in me. But I feel that the photo we had taken was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I will cherish that photo the rest of my life."
Smith's 2004 PGA Championship experience was a whirlwind that included his taking a flight home prior to the opening round to coordinate a pro-am event in Dallas.
The event ignited a foundation, "Kisses Fore Kennedy," which helped defray medical costs for added surgeries for his daughter, Kennedy, now 8, who suffered from lymphatic malformation of the face. The Foundation now extends to help other families whose medical insurance cannot cover the extra necessary expenses.
"Being here at Whistling Straits is more than a great opportunity for me, it began something special for my daughter, and I think about all the great fans who gave to the foundation in 2004, and didn't know who I was, but knew our story."