Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Nebraska, took a series of punches from the rugged Bayonet Course Wednesday, then came off the ropes to carry away the biggest prize of his golf career.
With a three-stroke lead erased thanks to a 4-over-par front nine, Vermeer dug deep and challenged himself to complete a mistake-free final nine. He birdied Holes 10 and 11, sprinkled in “some huge up-and-downs” to save par, then birdied 18 for a 1-over-par 73 for a two-stroke victory in the 51st PGA Professional Championship presented by Club Car and OMEGA.
The PGA Director of Instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Vermeer finished with a 72-hole total of 5-under-par 283, and became the first Nebraska PGA Member to win the national championship. He took home a first-place check of $55,000 and will have his name engraved on the Walter Hagen Cup.
“I haven’t won a lot of golf tournaments in my life; about seven in college, but nothing like this,” said Vermeer, 40, a former two-time All-American at the University of Kansas. “To do it in front of cameras and what goes with it, and I’ve never won this much money. It’s a life-changing thing. I’ve known that I had enough game to win an event like this. To come out and do it is pretty awesome.”
Sean McCarty of Solon, Iowa, who shared the day’s low round of 4-under-par 68, and 2004 Champion Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio (69) tied for second at 285. David Muttitt of Albuquerque, New Mexico (70) and Jason Schmuhl of Windsor, California (72) were another two strokes back at 287.
Vermeer’s challengers lined up after his shaky front nine, but he found a way to keep closing the door.
“The conditions were tough here,” said Vermeer. “When I arrived, it was hard and fast. I knew that nobody was going to go that low. I also knew that if I drove it well, my iron game would be good enough.”
McCarty, a PGA Head Professional at Brown Deer Golf Course in Coralville, Iowa, was the last to give Vermeer any concern, before a deflating three-putt effort from 25 feet on the par-5 18th hole. “That one will hurt me for a while,” said McCarty, who was competing in his seventh national championship.
“I just kind of hung in there. These are tough courses when the wind picks up. I told (Mac, his son and caddie) we'd just go hole-by-hole and see what happens. To play in the PGA (Championship) was on my bucket list and one of my goals this week. Obviously it’s a great feat, and to be here with my son all week. Hey, we're going to the PGA, so that's something.”
The motivation to close in on a second national title was within Sowards’ range. He also came close, but never maintained his momentum.
“I wanted to be even par through three rounds,” said Sowards, the PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio. “Seeing how tough the courses were playing, I thought even par was going to win.
“Today, my number in my head was 67, but once I doubled (the par-3 fourth hole), it was tough. I hit it well and gave myself a chance to win. That double was a lack of commitment. I butchered the par 3s this week. I did eagle No. 10, pitching in from 30 yards. Turning 50 this year has left me excited about playing.”
Vermeer is the son of PGA Life Member Bob Vermeer of Waterloo, Nebraska, who was at home watching the dramatics.
“I’m sure that he was really nervous and overly excited,” said Vermeer. “I felt he would have confidence in me, but I know I would have been nervous if I was sitting where he was.”
Vermeer reflected on a new chapter in his career, and taking a teaching position at Happy Hollow Club in May. “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 said. “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 and 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. I look forward to teaching and I have received outstanding support.”
The low 20 scorers earned a berth in the 100th PGA Championship, Aug. 9-12, at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
Championship Notes: Determining the low 20 scorers for exemptions into the 100th PGA Championship, evolved into a nearly 2½-hour, seven-hole playoff, with nine players for five remaining spots. The group had tied for 16th at 291. The survivors of that battle, which barely beat darkness, included: Danny Balin of Rockville, Maryland; Michael Block of Aliso Viejo, California; Craig Bowden of Bloomington, Indiana; Shawn Warren of Cape Elizabeth, Maine; and Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas.