BLUFFTON, S.C. – Danny Balin of Irvington, New York, and Alex Beach of Stamford, Connecticut, graduates of the PGA Professional Golf Management University Program, did their best to separate themselves and step to the head of the class Tuesday at Belfair in the third round of the 52nd PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and OMEGA.
In the end, the duel on the formidable West Course ended in a deadlock between the Metropolitan PGA Section duo at 7-under-par 208 in the largest all-professional national championship. A combination of a closing par by Beach – who had a 1-over-par 73 and a bogey by Balin, who posted a 72, set up a Wednesday final-round shootout.
Balin, the PGA Head Professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, New York, and Beach, a PGA Assistant Professional at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, are each battling for their first national title. They own a five-stroke margin over Matt Lohmeyer of Fort Worth, Texas (75), who was in the final pairing and also a PGA Professional Golf Management graduate from New Mexico State University, and Stuart Deane of Arlington, Texas (73).
Five players loom at 1-under-par 214 – two-time national Champion Matt Dobyns of Glen Head, New York; Rob Labritz of Pound Ridge, New York; Ben Cook of Caledonia, Michigan; 2016 Champion Rich Berberian Jr. of Hooksett, New Hampshire; and 2013 Champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Florida.
Balin, a Penn State alum and Beach, who wore the University of Nebraska colors proudly, were in their own chess match throughout the day when scoring was tough on the West Course.
If a professor was grading, how would he rate the PGM graduates?
“I would hope that he would give us an A, round us on the curve,” said Beach, who is a University of Nebraska graduate. “To be in the final group two days in a row, I’m happy with that.”
Beach suffered from an inconsistent putter, with bogeys on holes 2, 5 and 10; and with birdies on No. 7 and 14. He failed to capitalize on the par-5s. “Some of the hole locations were tucked a little bit and we played a little more conservative,” said Beach. “Danny made some great saves today, I feel tomorrow we can go out and play great golf.
“Most of the time I have been coming from behind. This is the position I want to be in. I knew it played tough out there. I had to scrape it around to come in 1-over.”
Balin owned a two-stroke margin over Beach through 13 holes, but could not take advantage from there.
“The golf course, in general, is tough. I didn’t play as good as I did the last two days but I made a couple putts,” said Balin. “I stayed in it and didn’t make any big numbers or stupid mistakes.”
Balin made one of the day’s best par saves at the par-4 17th hole, hitting a wedge approach to within two feet of the hole. The momentum stalled there, as he came up short with his approach to No. 18, then hit a lackluster chip to 20 feet below the hole, from where he missed his par putt.
“I hit a wayward drive and took my medicine. I didn’t try to do too much. I chipped it out on the fairway and relied on my wedges and scoring clubs. I hit a nice 50-degree wedge to a couple feet and made it to keep the round going. It was a little upsetting making bogey on 18 but all in all it was a good day.”
There will be no lack of motivation on Wednesday, said Balin. “I like to treat this as my major for the year, and it gives me a little extra motivation to do well and play the way I know how to play: hit it in the fairway, hit it on the green, make a couple putts, and know that scores aren’t going to be that low.
“Alex is a friendly face and a friend of mine. It’s good to walk the fairways with somebody like that. But at the end of the day, I have my own job to do. I stick with my caddie and take what the course gives us and do the best we can.”
Seventy-seven golfers made the 54-hole cut of 7-over-par 222 to the final round. The low 20 scorers Wednesday earn a berth in the 101st PGA Championship, May 16-19, at Bethpage Black Course in Farmingdale, New York.
Joanna Coe of Baltimore, Maryland, and Ashley Grier of Springfield, Pennsylvania, were writing a chapter of history on their own. They became the first two women PGA Professionals to make the 54-hole cut together in the same Championship. Coe, an Assistant PGA Director of Instruction at Baltimore Country Club, posted a 73 for a 218 total. Grier, a PGA Assistant Professional at Overbrook Country Club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, had a 77 to land on the cut line at 221.
Begun in 1968, the PGA Professional Championship is presented by Cadillac, Club Car and OMEGA; with supporting partners Nike, TaylorMade Golf, Titleist/FootJoy; Golf Channel and the PGA TOUR.