When PGA Professional Brian Gaffney showed up at Whistling Straits in August for the PGA Championship, there's no way he ever expected to be describing his experiences in the booth in front of such an enormous national TV audience, first with PGA.com and later with CBS.
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But after becoming the only PGA Professional to make the cut, the head PGA Professional at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., found himself the center of attention. And even now, he cherishes the week that changed his life.
For the most part, Gaffney still has his regular club duties to perform, but he appreciated the welcome home he received.
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"It was nice to come back to the club and connect with the members and other golf professionals," Gaffney said. "It was nice to get some congratulations after the week was done. The response was very positive. People were very happy that I played well and that I represented the club in a positive manner. They were supportive in how I handled the press, too."
Placed in an unexpected situation -- and trying to convey his thoughts to millions of golf fans -- Gaffney handled that task with as much success as he did the undulating greens and narrow fairways of Whistling Straits. What was supposed to be a quick cameo turned into a full-fledged interview and analysis.
And then to top it all off, Gaffney had the opportunity to share the stage with winner Jason Day, as the two posed for post-tournament photos. Unfortunately because of other obligations, they didn't have much time to chat.
"He said congratulations and I said the same to him, but that was about it," Gaffney said. "There was a lot going on at that time. Just a quick handshake and smile."
Because PGA Professionals have limited practice time and experience in playing in major tournaments, there is a tendency to be overwhelmed. Gaffney said that's happened to him in the past, so he went out of his way during this year's PGA Championship to try and maintain some order.
Still, he did get a chance to tee it up with a couple of tour regulars during one practice round.
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“I played with Bill Haas and Kevin Streelman one day," Gaffney said. " I played the back nine with them on Tuesday. I tried to do the right things with them. I wasn’t going to ask for an autograph or 'Can I have your hat?’ or anything silly like that. I just tried to respect their space.
"Different from years past, I tried to be more by myself than try to connect with Tour players or introduce myself to players I admire. So in doing that, I think that ultimately freed me up a little bit to stay in my own normal routine. I only played nine holes with some club professionals and not stay on the first tee, hoping to find someone famous to play with."
That strategy paid off handsomely, as Gaffney shot a 1-under 71 in the first round to place himself in contention. Knowing another good round on Friday would get him through to the weekend, he started to worry more about the cut and less on playing good golf.
"Then I started to play very defensively and started to make bogeys," Gaffney said. "That was a little bit disappointing. But the point where I realized I was going to make the cut was when I could make bogey on the last hole and still be fine, and that’s a really nice feeling."
Still, Gaffney finished with a 73, then followed it up with weekend rounds of 78 and 71, including three birdies on Sunday.
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Now, Gaffney's focus is back on work -- and preparing for another PGA Professional Championship next year, this one closer to home, in Verona, N.Y., about a four-hour drive instead of a plane flight.
"My schedule includes the regular PGA Section events we have for the rest of the year," Gaffney said. "It’s nice to know I’m back in the Professional Championship for next year, so I will make a plan for practice and preparation for that. But I’m just trying to finish out the year at work and make it a successful year at the club."
And the lingering memories from his week at Whistling Straits?
"That the sacrifices are worth it in the end," Gaffney said. "When I finished the 18th hole on the final round, I was so relieved, because you keep in all this emotion and energy throughout the entire week. And at the end, it was so nice to just be relieved and be finished — and then enjoy what the week was."
Here's his experience in the booth: