Memories for a Lifetime for the #Teamof20
By Jeff Babineau
Michael Block of the Team of 20 hits his shot on the seventh hole during the second round of the 2022 PGA Championship.
The chipping area across the road from the clubhouse at Southern Hills Country Club is something dropped right out of heaven, with three perfect greens to take on pitch shots, bunker shots and whatever challenge a golfer would like to create. Evening had arrived on a practice day earlier this week at the 104th PGA Championship, and upon this vast canvas so green that it doesn’t look real, only one camouflage carry bag remained. It belonged to PGA Professional Matt Borchert.
Borchert, 45, used to play golf for a living, talented enough to have 58 starts between the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour. Now he holds down a day job, overseeing instruction at the tony Isleworth Club in Windermere, Fla., which has been home to the likes of major winners Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, Lee Janzen and so many others. When your lesson book is full, you steal away any quiet moment you can to practice and prepare for weeks like these. Wednesday past dinner time in a far-away state offered Borchert such an opportunity.
“When I’m at the club, maybe between lessons, we do have a great short-game area, and I try to work hard on that part of the game,” Borchert said. “Because that’s the one that leaves you the quickest.”
Borchert was one of 20 PGA Professionals here in Tulsa representing the #TeamOf20, all having earned their spot in the strongest field in golf at this week’s PGA Championship through their play at the PGA Professional Championship played in Austin, which was won by Jesse Mueller, PGA General Manager at Grand Canyon University Golf Course in Phoenix. One year after two PGA Professionals (Brandon Cook and John Marek) played their way into the weekend at Kiawah Island, no PGA Professional made it to the weekend at a testing Southern Hills layout. Borchert was at Southern Hills early Saturday after morning rains had swept through to accept his crystal bowl as the week’s low PGA Professional.
He was disappointed in his finish on Friday. Needing to shoot 1 under on his last nine (the first nine at Southern Hills), he returned a score of 2-over 37, carding 74. Borchert has learned to be more accepting of the fact that he cannot prepare full-time as he once did, and said he enjoyed everything about his week, especially the chase to make the cut.
“That’s the feeling that we all play for, different levels, either winning or chasing the cut,” Borchert said.
For the PGA Professionals, PGA Championship week can be so valuable, and each player will bring back more memories than could fit in any travel bag. Mueller had one on the highlights of the tournament, starting his first PGA Championship by spinning a sand wedge into the hole for eagle at the par-4 10th on Thursday. Through five holes, he was 2 under, and on the leaderboard next to some of the biggest names in the game. (“My buddy got a good picture of that,” he said.)
Michael Block (Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, California) had his 17-year-old son, Dylan, on his bag. (Imagine the experience for Dylan, who wants to follow in his dad’s footsteps and make it to his own PGA one day.) Tyler Collet, the youngest of the PGA Professionals at age 26, rolled in a thrilling 30-footer for birdie at No.16 late Friday. When the ball tumbled in, Collet received great applause, and few even knew his backstory. One year earlier, Colett shot rounds of 88-82 at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. It was a rough showing, and led to a heart-to-heart with his wife, who convinced him he simply was putting way too much pressure on himself. He returned to another PGA, renewed. On Friday, he shot 71, a great round by any standards, and the best effort of the week among the #TeamOf20.
“Except on the first tees, I didn’t feel any nerves this week,” Collet said. “It was great. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed myself.”
Austin Hurt, 33, Head Golf Professional at Wing Point Golf & Country Club in Bainbridge Island, Wash., had some practice rounds right out of a golf fantasy camp. He teed it up with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland, Carlos Ortiz and Matt Fitzpatrick. Perhaps his most enjoyable round came on Tuesday, though, when he played 14 holes with fellow Pacific Northwest PGA Section members Colin Inglis (Shadow Hills CC in Junction City, Ore.) and Tim Feenstra (Broodmoor Golf Club, Seattle). “That was a blast, being with my brothers from the PGA,” Hurt said.
Wyatt Worthington II might have been the biggest hit among the #TeamOf20. Only the second Black Club Professional to have played his way into the PGA, Worthington, 35, had played in the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol, and relished being able to tee it up at a major championship again, one that featured 96 of the top 100 players in the world. It included Tiger Woods, who gave Wyatt a lesson when he was a teen that had an incredible impact.
“It’s been a little while – always nice to rekindle the flame, right?” said Worthington. How does a golfer who works full-time and is not able to work on his game as the tour pros do even manage to be competitive? To those who don’t really see how difficult that is, Worthington offers this perspective: Imagine yourself playing in the NBA Finals, Game 7, against LeBron James ... and you’re working a full-time job. So it’s highly challenging, but a thrill nonetheless.
“It’s special just to play on the PGA Tour ... but to play in a major, I think that’s every golfer’s dream,” Worthington said. “As a kid growing up, you want to put your game up against the best and see how it stands up under the gun.”
For the PGA Professionals here, competing at the PGA is all about what they will bring back to their memberships, and to their students. Worthington teaches at a facility called The Golf Depot on the east side of Columbus, Ohio. It has a driving range, a par-3 course. From the facility, one can look out to a great view of the city. Worthington calls it a hidden gem.
Worthington conducts lots of clinics for young boys and girls yearning to discover golf. When his students gather in the coming week, Worthington expects they will have plenty of questions to ask him about his experience. He cannot wait. He never had somebody to lean on who had “been there,” who had competed on the biggest stage, able to share the scene.
“I never had anyone I could actually physically touch, and have a conversation with, that has actually been there and done that,” Worthington said. “To give that to my students and anyone else who wants to pursue a professional career, I’m going to be an open book.”
As the private jets of PGA Tour pros whisk off into the sky late Sunday night for various destinations after the final round, many of these Walter Mittys of the Club Professional ranks will be getting back to work. Mueller said he’ll have lots of phone calls to catch up on in his GM role at Grand Canyon. Collet has been afforded an early-week travel day, and will not be back behind the counter at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach until Wednesday. Borchert will be back on the lesson tee at Isleworth on Tuesday.
“This week is all about the best players in the world,” said PGA of America President Jim Richerson. “But for us, what's really special is the Team of 20 - the 20 PGA club professionals that represent the 28,000 - those individuals that have kept their games at an extremely high level (while) living out our mission, growing the game on a daily basis. They elevate the status of PGA members around the country and the role that they have in the game. It's unbelievable to see the way they play and how they represent our association.”