FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Rob Labritz has a special relationship with Bethpage Black Course. It can be traced back to 1997, when he first competed on the renowned A.W. Tillinghast layout on Long Island.
He’s had his share of special moments on the Black, winning three New York State Opens over the years. On Sunday, Labritz completed his 73rd competitive round on the course he holds dear by earning Low PGA Club Professional honors in the 2019 PGA Championship.
The 47-year-old PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York, posted a 2-over-par 72 for a 72-hole total of 290. It was his second Low Club Professional award in the Championship, and first since 2010 when he tied for 68th at Whistling Straits.
Labritz finished five strokes ahead of 2018 PGA Professional Champion Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Nebraska, who had a 79 and 295 total. Marty Jertson of Phoenix, Arizona, the remaining member of the PGA Club Professional trio to compete on the weekend, finished with a 79-299.
“I refer to Bethpage Black as ‘she,’” said Labritz. “She’s a hard test. If you are nice to her and take care of her, she will treat you nicely. If you are not so nice and hit it off line, and you swear at her or get mad at her, she’s going to beat you up.
“You have to be patient out here. That’s all you must do. If you can hit it in the fairway, you have an opportunity to get it on the green and close.”
Labritz, Vermeer, the PGA Director of Instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha; and Jertson, the Vice President of Fitting and Performance for PING, were among 20 PGA Club Professionals competing at Bethpage Black. They earned a berth by finishing as the low 20 scorers in the 52nd PGA Professional Championship, April 28 - May 1, at Belfair in Bluffton, South Carolina.
It was the first PGA Championship weekend for Vermeer and Jertson. Vermeer, the reigning PGA Professional Player of the Year, was making third consecutive PGA appearance.
“I had a lot to play for today – the Low Club Pro being on the line,” said Vermeer. “To be playing in a major championship on a Sunday and knowing that I am going to be a part of something special when they hand out the Wanamaker Trophy. To be playing in a major championship on a Sunday has been a lifelong dream.”
Vermeer was surprised on the first tee Sunday when his boss – PGA General Manager Dave Schneider of Happy Hollow Club – greeted him and then announced his name before his tee shot. Schneider is the District 8 Director on the PGA Board of Directors.
Vermeer is the first Nebraska PGA Member to make a cut in a PGA Championship, a feat that adds to his milestones in winning the national championship last year and the PGA Professional Player of the Year Award.
“To have done something that nobody else in the Nebraska (PGA) Section has done is pretty cool,” said Vermeer, “and it’s something that I can hang my hat on.
“It’s important for the PGA Club Professionals to be a part of this tournament, and it’s even more important when we play well. It shows we deserve the spots and it’s very cool to be one of those guys.”
Vermeer, Labritz and Jertson represented the largest PGA Club Professional contingent to make the weekend in the Championship since the PGA of America limited the Championship exemptions to 20 players in 2006. The last time three or more PGA Club Professionals played the final 36 holes was in 2005 when four players advanced. But that was when the PGA allowed 35 exemptions into the field.
Jertson is more than a talented player. He’s also the country’s foremost playing club engineer. He designed a driver – the PING 410 – and got the results he needed. He has been an inventor for more than 125 patents.
“It’s a lot of fun playing all four days,” said Jertson. “It’s my first time ever. My lifelong dream was to get my game in shape to make the cut in a major. I pulled it off with my ball striking and putting, which were good the first two rounds. This has absolutely been a dream week.”
Labritz said that he can look back upon the support he received from his family, friends and club members. There were an estimated 50 members of his “entourage” that wore t-shirts with “Rob’s Mob” inscribed on the back. And, there was the journey over the past two years that Labritz committed himself in preparation for this week.
“When this site was announced a few year ago, my caddie said to me that we have to be there,” said Labritz. “My wife (Kerry) said ‘You want to play there, you won three State Opens there.’ This winter I would travel to Florida and practice and would wrap around coaching and playing. That was a big sacrifice. I didn’t see my family much this winter. I had to make sure that my game was sharp enough to compete.”
The responsibilities of a club professional, particularly a PGA Director of Golf, were something that Labritz kept in balance. He credited the support of GlenArbor Golf Club.
“My club is very easy with me. They know how important playing good golf is. They know that it helps my teaching ability,” he said. “They know that it helps me as a person. I’m fulfilled when I play good golf. They support me 100 percent.”
Labritz said that he has more than a special place in his heart for Bethpage Black. He said that he wants to be a part of the landscape.
“When my time has come, I will have my ashes spread on Bethpage Black,” said Labritz. “This place is that special to me.”