Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the April 2019 edition of PGA Magazine.
While becoming the first player from the Nebraska PGA Section to win the prestigious PGA Professional Championship last June, Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Nebraska, also proved a couple of important points to himself en route to victory on California’s scenic Monterey Peninsula.
First, Vermeer proved he could compete – and win – on tour-caliber golf courses, such as the highly demanding Bayonet and Black Horse courses, where he constructed a 72-hole aggregate of 5-under-par 283 for a two-stroke triumph in the 51st PGA Professional Championship presented by Club Car and OMEGA. Second, the former two-time All-American at the University of Kansas proved turning 40 is no barrier to playing highly competitive golf.
“It was a dream week for me; it was a life-changing accomplishment,” recalls Vermeer, the PGA Director of Instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, who played 31 career events on the Web.com Tour before trading life as a tour professional for a career as a PGA Professional.
Adding to History
“I hadn’t won a lot of golf tournaments in my life, even though I played on several different tours when I was younger,” explains Vermeer, who picked up a check for $55,000 and saw his name engraved on the Walter Hagen Cup. “I won seven events in college, but I had never won a national championship like this, and I’ve never won that much money in a single event. I’ve always felt I had enough game to do it, but proving it on a stage like this was pretty awesome.”
There was a historic addendum to Vermeer’s breakthrough victory in last year’s PGA Professional Championship: The 2018 Champion is the son of PGA Life Member Bob Vermeer of Waterloo, Nebraska, and the sixth son of a PGA Professional to win the PGA Professional Championship.
Vermeer’s impressive march to victory in 2018 was not without a little final-round drama. Perhaps feeling the pressure of the moment, the eventual Champion saw a three-stroke advantage evaporate while playing the front nine in 4-over-par.
After a quick chat with himself and some encouragement from a fellow PGA Professional from Omaha at the turn, Vermeer was determined eliminate his mistakes and birdied the 10th and 11th holes to re-establish command. Some clutch up-and-downs to save par and a birdie at the 18th hole gave Vermeer a closing 73 for the two-shot victory over Sean McCarty (final-round 68) of Solon, Iowa, and Bob Sowards (69) of Dublin, Ohio.
Professional Encouragement Spurs Victory
It was Jon Petersen, the PGA Director of Instruction at Tiburon Golf Club in Omaha, who gave Vermeer some words of encouragement at the turn and spurred the eventual champion to victory.
“I worked for Jon for four years prior to taking the job at Happy Hollow,” says Vermeer. “I saw Jon as I walked from No. 9 to the 10th tee. He gave me a nice kick in the butt. Even though I wasn’t in the greatest position in the Championship at that moment, he told me to put my head down and go after it. That was good for me to hear.”
Vermeer, who was elected to PGA membership in 2016, spent nearly 11 years attempting to build a career as a tour professional. It was that experience under pressure that paid large dividends at Bayonet Black Horse last year.
“I never felt like I had bad years trying to play professionally, but a lot of days felt like Groundhog Day all the time,” he recalls. “I would miss by a stroke in keeping my card, return, call sponsors, and keep missing again. As I got older and my wife and I started having kids, and I decided to step away from traveling, for one reason or another my golf game got better.
“I think being 40 years old, I’m smarter on the golf course and not making as many mistakes. However, I look forward to teaching more, and I have received outstanding support.”
Vermeer’s performance at the 2018 PGA Professional Championship proved beyond a doubt that he could play world-class golf courses under the pressure of a major championship.
“The courses and conditions (at Bayonet Black Horse) were tough, definitely tour-caliber courses,” says Vermeer, who qualified for the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, where he acquitted himself nicely with rounds of 73-73 to narrowly miss the cut. “It makes it even more gratifying to win on such challenging courses, where you have to hit all kinds of different shots and do a little scrambling. It was a special experience.”