BLUFFTON, S.C. – Metropolitan PGA Section Members Alex Beach of Stamford, Connecticut, and Danny Balin of Irvington, New York, have been shadowing each other for years on the course, whether it was dueling in the Empire State or in the warmth of a South Florida winter.
On a gusty Monday at Belfair, the stakes got a notch higher in the 52nd PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and OMEGA.
Beach, a 29-year-old PGA Assistant Professional at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, eagled the par-5 third hole on the East Course to fuel a 4-under-par 67 and the 36-hole lead at 8-under-par 135 in the largest all-professional national championship. Beach owns a one-stroke margin over Balin, a 37-year-old PGA Head Professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, New York.
Both Beach and Balin tamed the challenging par-71 East layout with a proper dose of patience to handle the firm putting surfaces. Balin collected six birdies against one bogey for a sizzling 66, which was his second-lowest 18-hole performance in 21 rounds covering five previous appearances.
Beach hit a 3-wood into the 545-yard, par-5 No. 3 hole on the East, and made an eight-foot eagle putt. He then rolled home a pair of long distance birdie putts – a 50-footer on No. 8 and a 40-footer on No. 13.
“We had a good game plan coming in. Just hit some good shots and played very conservatively,” said Beach. “I was fortunate to make some putts on the holes that I played well. On the back nine, it got a little loose. To make it through today under par was a huge achievement.”
Enjoying his first perch atop the Championship leaderboard, Beach also tempers that feeling by reflection upon journey to health. In June 2016, he suffered a blood clot in his left leg before that year’s Championship.
By competing that week, he would remain on blood thinners for life.
“I’m reminded every day of what happened,” said Beach. “I’ve used that to propel me and motivate me moving forward. Every time I show up to this tournament, it’s a reminder of where I’ve come from but also the achievement of making it here. It’s a motivation more than a hindrance.”
Championship rookie Matt Lohmeyer of Fort Worth, Texas, was alone in third at 138, while Brett McCurdy of Lake Park, Florida (68) and Stuart Deane of Arlington, Texas (68) shared fifth at 140. The field of 312 was trimmed to the low 90 scorers and ties, with 92 golfers making the cut at 5-over-par 148 heading into Tuesday’s third round.
The low 70 scorers and ties after 54 holes in the $650,000 Championship advance to Wednesday’s 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.
It isn’t just competitive golf that bonds Beach and Balin; it also extends to business. When Balin took his current position at Fresh Meadow Country Club in January, Beach succeeded him at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, and settled into his new quarters two weeks ago.
“Danny and I have played a lot of golf together and we’re good friends,” said Beach. “He’s a great player and has had a lot of success. I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps. It’ll be great for Westchester Country Club and all the support we’ve received from them. But I’m going to go out there and try and beat him.”
Balin said of his lack of preparations: “I didn’t get to go to Florida this year, because I got this new job. With this tournament being in this part of the year, I didn’t have a lot of time to get ready. I had two 18-hole rounds, hit some balls and putted a bit. That was about it. I have been doing this for a while, and I know how to prepare, what works and what doesn’t.
“I wasn’t in that much trouble today. I had 27 putts today, which was good. I just managed my game well.”
Lohmeyer is a PGA Teaching Professional at GOLFTEC at Montgomery plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, is a graduate of the University of New Mexico PGA Golf University program. His caddie is his college roommate, PGA Professional Casey Moen of Great Falls, Montana.
“I got off to a good start, going 4-under through 7, and felt very relaxed,” said Lohmeyer. “The West Course really suited my eye. The greens were soft and I felt like we were almost throwing darts."
Former Champion Ron Philo Jr. of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, the first-round leader, struggled to a 75 and was at 140. Defending Champion Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Nebraska, struggled to a 76 to land at 146.
Begun in 1968, the PGA Professional Championship is presented by Club Car and OMEGA; with supporting partners Nike, TaylorMade Golf, Titleist/FootJoy; Golf Channel and the PGA TOUR.
Notes: PGA Master Professional Jim White, 69, the manager of Fairways at Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska, completed his record 30th Championship appearance with a 74 and 149 total to miss the cut. What had made White’s accomplishment special is that he has had no exemptions and has qualified through his Section Championship since 1985. He is a 19-time Nebraska PGA Player of the Year and a 14-time Section Senior Player of the Year. “You have to get your game in shape to try to qualify for this Championship and I have been fortunate to do so,” said White. “I enjoy coming to this Championship. It’s great to see guys from all over the country, seeing old friend and making new friends.” Ashley Grier, a PGA Assistant Professional at Overbrook Country Club in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, turned in a 71 on the West Course and posted a 143 total to make the cut along with Joanna Coe of Baltimore (Maryland) Country Club, who had a 74-145.