Rob Labritz reflects on the 2019 PGA Championship – from Opening Tee Shot Honors to Hoisting Crystal on Sunday
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian
Imagine you are a part-time musician invited to join a symphony orchestra in Carnegie Hall, and while seated on stage among the veterans, the conductor calls upon you for a solo performance.
Now, imagine you are PGA Club Professional Rob Labritz, and you’re 45 minutes east of Carnegie Hall on the first tee of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.
The starter barks your name. You have the honor of hitting the opening tee shot in a major championship. Play away.
Few PGA Club Professionals get that singular moment in a major. Labritz, the 48-year-old PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York, has done it twice – last year and in the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.
“It’s amazing to play in a major championship,” said Labritz. “It’s the whole reason why I’ve played golf my whole life - to compete at that high level. Then, to make it to the weekend after all the hats that I wear as a director of golf. . . I reflect on all the sacrifices my family makes for me.
“It’s not patting myself on the back, but pat my support group on the back. They allow me to help keep my golf game at a high level.”
Last May at Bethpage Black, Labritz went the 72-hole distance while competing in his sixth PGA Championship. For the second time in his career, and first since 2010 at Whistling Straits, he captured Low Club Professional honors. He tied for 60th among one of the strongest fields in golf.
“You have to play good golf and you can’t make any mistakes,” said Labritz. “If you do make mistakes, you have to make a lot of birdies. And to make a lot of birdies on a major championship venue, you’ve got to take a lot of chances.”
“The difference between when I play in the PGA Professional Championship versus when I play in the majors is that the guys I play with that are full-time players are firing at every flag, no matter where it is. They don’t care if they miss the green, they just get up and down. You can play a bit more conservative in the club professional ranks, and finish well, but limit mistakes that way, but not shoot as many low scores.”
What’s it like being in the moment on Sunday in the final round of a major championship?
“It’s joy, it’s happiness, it’s every emotion while I’m out there,” said Labritz. “I feel gratitude toward the crowd, I feel gratitude toward my family. I feel gratitude toward myself that I can do this, while I am tending to my members, running a club and coaching. You get a flood of every emotion that you can feel, especially if you wear your golf game and your heart on your sleeve like I do.”
There is a discipline to compete in a major, says Labritz, and as a PGA Club Professional, it takes on an extra dimension.
“My days are from dawn until dusk,” he said. “You must eat right, get enough rest and do all the duties as a PGA Professional at my club. When you are coaching other students, you are always on call. The phone rings at odd hours. You get questions 24/7, eight days a week. If you love what you do, it’s not a job. And, I love what I do.”
From Whistling Straits in 2010 to Bethpage Black in 2019, Labritz has stood on the 18th green on Sunday and basked in the glare of a worldwide television audience. He owns a pair of crystal bowls for having performed at the highest level among a 20-member PGA Club Professional contingent in the field.
“It’s like being Mick Jagger on stage in a Rolling Stones concert,” said Labritz. “It’s the most amazing feeling. You have people you don’t know cheering for you and calling your name.”