A small crowd gathered around Rich Berberian Jr. as he made his way to the opening teebox at Quail Hollow Golf Club last Thursday. Then at precisely 7:20 a.m., Berberian pulled back his driver and smashed his teeshot down the fairway on the 524-yard par-4 first hole.
And with that, the 2017 PGA Championship was underway.
"It was the best tee time I've ever had," recalled Berberian, a Hooksett resident. "Being able to be the first off in the morning was great. It was quiet on Thursday spectator-wise."
Berberian and his playing partners -- Peter Uihlein and Grayson Murray -- each took a par on the first hole. For that one brief moment, he shared the lead at the last of golf's four annual major championships.
For the second year in a row however, Berberian missed out on getting to play the weekend. His two-day score of +11 (79-74) put him six shots back of making the cut.
The nerves of playing at a major are oftentimes tough to overcome.
"A lot of guys look at it like they have one shot at playing in a major and you put too much pressure on yourself," said Berberian, The Eagle-Tribune's MVP in 2004 and 2005. "It's obviously a spectacle. But you have to put the sights behind you and go out and play golf. You just have to do what you've been doing your whole life.
"You put a lot of pressure on yourself. You can't look at it as a major tournament. It's just another round of golf."
It's safe to say that 2017 has been Berberian's busiest year.
He has competed in seven PGA Tour tournaments after playing in just two -- the 2015 U.S. Open and 2016 PGA Championship -- in his career prior.
What more, Berberian, 29, married his wife, Morgan, in May, and also accepted a new position as the director of instruction at Vesper Country Club in Tyngsboro.
It was a change that he gladly welcomed.
"It's been a dream come true. Vesper is an unbelievable place with a great head pro and assistants," said Berberian. "It was also a great dream of mine to be a director of instruction at a golf course. It's been a crazy opportunity for me.
"They were fine with me taking the job knowing that I would be leaving for weeks to play in tournaments. They even threw me a little party before I left for Quail Hollow, and I've only been here five months."
ROLLER COASTER STILL ROLLING
Berberian set himself up for a busy year after he won the PGA Professional Championship for club pros in 2016. The win granted him a spot at last year's PGA Championship at Baltusrol, as well as six exemptions for this season.
Those exemptions were used to play at: The Puerto Rico Open, the Barbasol Championship, the Barracuda Championship, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Genesis Open and the Shell Houston Open. He made the cut in three of those events, earning $26,284.
And Berberian still isn't done quite yet.
Next week, he will be competing in the New England PGA Championship at the Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill and Turner Hill in Ipswich. Then in September, he will be representing the U.S. in England for the 2017 PGA Cup. He was chosen based off of a points system.
"It's exactly like the Ryder Cup but for club pros. It happens every couple year." said Berberian.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
Berberian was grateful for the second PGA Championship experience, but was candid on how he played.
"I wasn't very happy with the way I played," he said. "It's a major and you want to play the best you can. I feel like I should be able to make the cut. But you learn from the experience and try to get better. Hopefully I'll get another crack at it."
Berberian will have to make that happen with an uncertain future. He finished fifth at this year's PGA Professional Championship, which was good enough for a spot at Quail Hollow but did not come with any 2018 exemptions.
"No exemptions. You have to win," said Berberian. "One thing that is does though is send me to the second stage of Q school on the Web.Com Tour."
Working as director of instruction at Vesper will inherently put Berberian behind professionals who work on their game for a living. Teaching is very different than beating balls at a driving range daily.
But this year has been an eye-opening one.
"There have been events this year with some guys and I've thought to myself 'There's no difference between you and I when we both play well,'" said Berberian.
Chasing down that coveted PGA Tour card is something Berberian is considering.
But with a new family, job and house in Hooksett, he is content with whatever happens.
"It depends on how much I want it," said Berberian. "I think I can be pretty satisfied just teaching and being happy. If I really wanted to put my time in I think I can qualify for the Web.Com Tour, earn my card the right way and play a couple years at the PGA Tour level.
"If it works it works. But if it doesn't, I have a great home and family in New Hampshire."
Rich Berberian's 2017 PGA performances
Tournament - Score - Finish - Earnings
PGA Championship 79-74--153 Cut $0
Barracuda Championship 77-70--147 Cut $0
Barbasol Championship 70-70-76--216 83 $6,160
Shell Houston Open 74-84--158 Cut $0
Puerto Rico Open 70-69-71-76--286 (-2) 71 $5,940
Genesis Open 77-69--146 Cut $0
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 73-72-70--215 T66 $14,184
This article is written by Kyle Gaudette from The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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