Club pros get a taste of tour life at PGA Championship
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (AP) Jason Day and Jordan Spieth are at Baltusrol. So are 20 club pros, who for one week of the year get treated on equal ground as the best golfers in the world.
They drive the same model Mercedes-Benz as courtesy cars. Lockers are in alphabetical order, and it doesn't matter if they give lessons or make millions in PGA Tour earnings. Club pros will have the same tee times as tour players when the PGA Championship starts Thursday.
''When I go back next week to work I'll be a club pro again, but this week I'm out here playing these guys and that's how you have to look at it,'' Ryan Helminen, a club pro at Ridgeway Country Club in Neenah, Wisconsin said. ''I'm another player in the field.''
Helminen is competing in his third straight PGA Championship, qualifying with the other 19 club pros through the PGA Professional Championship in June. The club pros will join the 136 tour players for the final major of the season, which has the strongest field of the year.
Only when the championship begins are the club pros at a disadvantage at Baltusrol.
They spend most of the year teaching golf, not spending hours working on their own games or competing against the best from January to December. And it shows. No club pro has ever won the PGA Championship, and the best finish was third place in 1971 by Tommy Bolt, who once played the tour and won the 1958 U.S. Open.
The last top 10 by a club pro was another former player - Sam Snead - in 1973. Not since 1994 has a club pro finished in the top 30.
Making the cut is no easy task. Only one club pro has managed that in the last two years. That was Brian Gaffney, who finished 71st out of the 77 players who made the cut last year at Whistling Straits. He earned $17,900 for the week and provided inspiration for the others.
''The club pros are very good players and I think you'd be very surprised how well club pros have done, and they've had good showings in the past, and so hopefully we can build on that. And hopefully as time goes on more club pros can make the cut and be competitive,'' Helminen said.
One golfer who has made the transition from club pro to tour regular is five-year PGA Tour player Jim Herman.
Herman, 38, was a club pro for about four years before he earned a spot on the Web.com Tour in 2008, and was financially backed by Donald Trump. Herman was an assistant pro at Trump National in New Jersey, moved up to the big tour in 2011 and won his first PGA Tour event this year at the Houston Open.
''Every year it was a struggle,'' Herman said. ''You can make it here, but are you good enough to stay? Are you good enough to win? But I put in my time and worked really hard and I've been able to ring out a pretty good career so far.''
Herman acknowledged that there was a ''little bit of a divide'' between the club pros and the tour players in terms of talent, but everyone on the tour ''feels indebted'' to the club pros who helped them grow their own games.
''Obviously we're looked at differently than the PGA member here, the host clubs, and at every club around the country, and they have a different role and a different job. We are the players, but they are the teachers and they are the ones who are growing the game,'' Herman said.
Rob Labritz, PGA director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York is a club pro and recognizes the distinct line between his level and a tour player. But Labritz said he ''understands his place'' and is just happy to be out on the course playing his game.
''Would I like to do this day in and day out and be treated like a rockstar like Mick Jagger? Oh yeah,'' Labritz said.
And while Labritz is getting the top-level treatment at Baltusrol, he said the fans who line the fairways aren't there to see him. They might not even know who he without seeing his name on his bag or on the back of his caddie's bib.
''They are here to see Jason Day,'' Labritz said.
Labritz played on the Canadian Tour full time from 2003 to 2005 before the passing of his father and going through a divorce made him rethink his career path.
''Sure I would love to practice 8 to 10 hours a day, but I can't because that doesn't pay the bills for me,'' Labritz said. ''Running the club does. I don't know if I could ever be a full-time player because I truly enjoy teaching my clients and being at the club.''
The 45-year-old is now a husband as well as a father to two. Labritz was the only club pro to make the cut at the PGA Championship in 2010.
''You got to keep telling yourself it's just another shot and it's OK what happens,'' Labritz said. ''If I miss one or two it's OK, because I'm a club pro.''