By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
Nearly two weeks ago, as his "office" was being overrun by tents, scaffolding and grandstands, PGA teaching professional Mark Sheftic was interrupted by an early morning visitor at Merion Golf Club. The guy was lost and needed help finding the East Course.
"Oh, hi Tiger! No problem. I will lead you through to the right spot." Sheftic jumped into his car, parked on the West Course and the world's No. 1-ranked player followed in a black SUV to the clubhouse.
Fast forward to last Monday, and Sheftic arrived on the practice range at 4:30 a.m., trying to help maintenance crews sweep water that drenched the site of the 113th U.S. Open in Ardmore, Pa.
"I'm doing all that I can to make this week the best experience for the players in the Open," said Sheftic, a member of the Merion staff since 2008. "This is the U.S. Open, and my job is to make the club shine. I don't want to let anyone down."
Sheftic, 38, is more than a team player on a proud Merion staff. He also is one of the finest active Philadelphia PGA Section players entered in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship, June 23-26, in Sunriver, Ore. It will be Sheftic's first trip back to the Championship since 2011, when he missed the cut in Hershey, Pa., some two hours from his home in Blue Bell, Pa.
"When you compete closer to home, you often put too much pressure on yourself," said Sheftic, whose National Championship finishes include a runner-up in 2009 and third in 2010. What Sheftic also has been balancing is how to prepare this year for the Championship while a major championship visits his home course.
"I'm working the practice range for the week, and making sure that everyone is taken care of," says Sheftic. "If it means going out and driving the ball-picker, I will do that, too. I won't have the time you would expect to practice for our National Championship, but I have played my best when my expectations are low. It has helped me focus and to relax."
In addition to serving as a host to U.S. Open, Sheftic's focus over the past year has revolved around his family, particularly his infant daughter, Taylor, now 15 months. She recently underwent a third surgery for removal of a tumorous mass, which Sheftic termed "successful."
"It has all been very positive," says Sheftic. "My wife (Nicole) and I have been very blessed to live in the same area as a great hospital, CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia). They are the best in the world."
With the prospects of his daughter's recovery on the upswing, Sheftic, who is also father to a 4-year-old son, Tyler, can move on to carrying on his efforts to a trip to Sunriver in just over a week.
"It is fun for me to be at a National Championship, getting to make friends and to see some old friends," said Shetic, "It is like a reunion for me. The PGA of America has done a great job with the Championship. They treat us like a Tour player, and the overall experience is second to none. What I know is that I will not think too hard, and the one-shot-at-a-time formula has always been the best for me."
This year, entrants in the National Championship also have the opportunity to compete in two major "plums," should their performance go well in Sunriver -- a trip to a major and an overseas adventure. It is a combination of incentives that Sheftic knows well.
This year, the low 20 scorers in the National Championship will earn a berth in the 95th PGA Championship, Aug. 8-11, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. This also is a PGA Cup year, the "Ryder Cup for the club professional."
The highest 10 point-winners over a two-year period, including National Championships and performance in the PGA Championship, land a berth on the U.S. PGA Cup Team that will face Great Britain & Ireland, Sept. 20-22, at Slaley Hall in Northumberland, England.
The winner of the 2012 Pennsylvania State Open, Sheftic also was a member of the victorious 2009 and 2011 PGA Cup Teams. He earned the clinching point in 2009 for the U.S. in a 171/2 to 81/2 victory at The Carrick in Loch Lomond, Scotland.
"I have getting the word out about the PGA Cup to younger professionals, letting them know what lies ahead if they can keep their games together and play well at the National Championship," said Sheftic. "People have asked me what is the best tournament that I have played in my career. I don't hesitate when I say it is the PGA Cup.
"That experience blew me away. It is all about building relationships and networking with your fellow professionals. The camaraderie and lifelong friendships that came as a result of that experience were tremendous," said Sheftic. "It is much more than just playing the game."
The 46th PGA Professional National Championship is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA. The Championship will be televised live, June 23-26, by GOLF CHANNEL.