FALMOUTH -- Golf has been a big part of Shawn Warren's life since his early teens, when his parents would drop him off at Gorham Country Club and let him play for eight to 10 hours.
All those long days paid off. Last week, Warren accomplished something no Maine golfer has done in more than two decades by earning a spot in the PGA Championship -- one of the sport's four major professional tournaments.
Playing a qualifying round in Seaside, California, Warren sank a 14-foot putt on the first playoff hole -- he was one of nine golfers competing for the final five spots -- to secure his berth.
"It's been a long time coming," said Warren, 33, who lives in Portland and works as a golf pro at Falmouth Country Club. "It's been something obviously as a kid you dream about and now to realize the reality of it and what's going to be coming. ... It's surreal a lot of the time. It hasn't really sunk in yet. I think it will when I get out there."
Warren was one of 20 pros to secure a berth among the 312 who attempted to qualify for the 100th PGA Championship to be held Aug. 6-12 at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. He will join Tim Angis (1993), formerly of the Biddeford-Saco Country Club, and John Hickson (1997), now at Bath Country Club, as Maine pros to play in the PGA Championship.
Sean Barrett, the head pro at Falmouth Country Club, said several members are planning to make the trip to St. Louis to cheer Warren on.
"It's great for the state, to have someone playing in the PGA Championship," said Jim Fairbanks, the director of golf at Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough. "And it's great for Shawn. Hopefully, this will help him take another leap forward in his career."
Warren has long been recognized as one of the state's top golfers. He graduated from Windham High in 2003 (where he also played basketball), then was a four-year captain on the golf team at Marshall University. He won the Maine Open in 2004 and, at 21, won the Maine Amateur in 2006. Then he turned pro. Twice he came close to earning his playing card on the PGA Tour.
"Near-misses at the second stage, which would have gotten me my card," he said, noting that there are three stages to qualifying for the PGA Tour.
After the second miss, he returned to Maine as a PGA member and teaching pro. He combines lessons with tournaments -- and he's good at both. He was the PGA New England player of the year in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
His students love his approach, which focuses as much on course management as technical skills. "I've had him for two years now and he turned my golf game around completely," said Scarborough's Elizabeth Lacognata, who won the Maine schoolgirl individual championship last fall and will play golf at Rollins University. "He saw the potential I had and worked really hard to bring all the potential out and taught me everything I know about the game."
But until Warren sank that putt last week, he had never qualified for a PGA Tour event. Four other times he had played in the qualifier, in which club pros from around the nation attempt to earn a PGA Championship spot. In 2015, he was part of a five-man playoff for the final spot, but bogeyed the first hole and was eliminated.
"It's difficult to succeed, no matter what you do, the first time you try something," said Warren. "That negative stuff, as much as it hurts, and eats at you at that moment, sometimes later on you can feed off that knowing, 'I've been there, I've done this.' Sometimes those negative things you're going through, that's the experience you draw on."
Warren bogeyed the final hole in regulation last week to fall into the playoff, but didn't let it bother him. "To be able to refocus and not let it end in a bad way and actually get back in there and hang tough and birdie that playoff hole, maybe that's something as a younger player I wouldn't have been able to do," he said.
His maturity is evident to those who have followed him, "He's gotten better," said Dick Harris, the director of golf at Falmouth Country Club. "And he's got a dose of confidence. He really has matured and he's confident in what he's doing."
Warren is confident that his game is on par with that of the PGA Tour golfers, many of whom he has played with over the years. He hopes his mental game is as strong.
"You hope now your maturity is catching up with your athleticism," he said. "You're kind of thinking these next five years are going to be the prime of your golf career. Unlike the other sports, you don't peak until your athleticism and maturity and mind catch up with each other. That's where I've improved lately."
Warren will go out to Bellerive a week early to capture its feel, to see how it plays to his game. His goal is modest: to make the cut after the first two rounds.
Hickson, who played at the PGA Championship 21 years ago, said it's important to not get caught up in the surroundings.
"The whole thing is like you would picture," he said. "You're sitting on the range with Tom Watson behind you and Nick Price in front of you. ... You just have to go with that a bit, say, 'Wow,' and just go with it. Looking back, it was a lot of fun for me."
This article is written by Mike Lowe from Portland Press Herald, Maine 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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