PGA Championship 2019: A club pro achieved a dream that was two years in the making
Three club professionals made the cut at the PGA Championship for the first time since the PGA began its 20-player exemption in 2006. (Before then, the number of club pro qualifiers was set at 35.)
New York’s own Rob Labritz was one of them. I felt specially invested in Labritz’s story last week, after writing about him before the tournament began. As a three-time New York State Open champion (a tournament annually contested at Bethpage Black), I felt Labritz could be the ultimate PGA sleeper. With 69 career competitive rounds at the Black, he had more experience and local knowledge than anyone else in the field.
Labritz is 47 years old, and though he played in five PGA Championships prior to this year, he has been planning and dreaming of playing in his home-state major for two years. He battled through two qualifiers to earn his place at Bethpage, and relished the opportunity to play on one of golf’s grandest stages with dozens of friends, family and club members watching on site.
Labritz hit the PGA Championship’s opening tee shot at 6:45 a.m. ET on Thursday. His first round included five bogeys, a double, and two birdies for a 75 — five over par. His dream of making the cut looked iffy. He needed to rally mightily on Friday in order to earn a spot on the weekend. And rally he did. Labritz made a serious statement, shooting a one-under 69 to make the cut on the number, which was four over par.
“This golf course is one where you can hit good shots and not get rewarded,” Labritz told me after his final round on Sunday. “Standing on the first tee the first day, I knew I could do it. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t [believe it]. I worked my butt off for this.”
Making the cut in a major championship is a huge accomplishment for any pro, let alone a PGA club pro, who works a full-time job in addition to being an elite player. Labritz’s four-day total of 10 over (T60) was better than the likes of Tony Finau (+11), Phil Mickelson (+12), Daniel Berger (+12) and Pat Perez (+14). To put it simply, it was a remarkable display of grit and self-belief — and the experience was one Labritz didn’t want to end.
In the flash interview area after signing his card on Sunday, he was emotional as he tried to sum up the week.
“This sort of arena, for the 28,000 PGA club professionals — I want everyone to drive, to kick themselves in the butt to try to do this,” he said. “Because there is nothing like this.”
For Labritz, the Monday after the championship didn’t mean the beginning of a week off or a flight to the next PGA Tour stop. It meant a return to the daily club-pro grind: teaching lessons and caring for members and guests as the Director of Golf at Westchester County’s GlenArbor Golf Club. But Bethpage will retain a special place in his heart.
“When my time has come, I will have my ashes spread on Bethpage Black,” he told the PGA’s Bob Denney. “This place is that special to me.”
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