None of the 20 PGA professionals competing in last week’s PGA Championship made the cut, the first time since 2016 at Baltusrol that all missed the weekend. But the circumstances surrounding the event go a long way toward explaining why.
The PGA Professional Championship that serves as the biggest tournament of the year for club professionals was moved from April to July before eventually being canceled. Spots for PGA professionals in the PGA Championship field typically are awarded based on their results in the Professional Championship, but this year – as a concession to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – the PGA chose the top 20 based on its 2019 Player-of-the-Year list.
There also was a lack of tournament reps or practice time leading into the PGA Championship, as virtually all of the 41 PGA sections lost a large chunk of their event schedule. For example, the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Section did not start official tournament play until July 13.
Even with some tournaments being played, many were too busy with their day jobs to focus on their own games. According to the National Golf Foundation, rounds across the country were up 14 percent this June compared to a year earlier. The pandemic caused a massive financial hit in the golf industry as many courses shuttered in the spring, but the more recent spike in those wanting to play has provided a silver lining.
Of particular interest, the current NGF projection shows there likely will be a 20 percent increase in junior golfers this year compared with 2018 and 2019.
Rob Labritz, the low club pro in last year’s PGA Championship, has seen a rush for his membership to play at Glenarbor Golf Club in Westchester County, New York, where he is the director of golf. The facility normally doesn’t get enough play to warrant tee times being needed, but the increase in demand has changed that.
“I'm seeing members I haven't seen in 10 or 12 years," Labritz told the Associated Press. “I have a passion for getting people hooked on the game so they can play it. I love seeing it boom.”
All of this made for a difficult return to competition for PGA professionals, especially at a course as difficult as TPC Harding Park. The best effort among the group was from defending PGA Professional champion Alex Beach (pictured above). The assistant professional at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, shot 4-over 144 and missed the cut by three strokes.
Some participants were able to pack more golf into their time away from their home club. Justin Bertsch, the head professional at Club Pelican Bay in Naples, Florida, played Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, Pebble Beach and California Golf Club in a three-day span before the tournament.