By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
SUNRIVER, Ore. -- Rod Perry spent most of his career trying to carve a niche in professional golf among his peers. Spending just four days in the rarefied air of Central Oregon, Perry proved that he belonged.
The 39-year-old PGA head professional at Crane Lakes Golf and Country Club in Port Orange, Fla., turned in a near-flawless 3-under-par 69 Wednesday afternoon at Crosswater Club, punctuating his performance by making a downhill 15-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th hole. It was the lift he needed for a three-stroke victory in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship.
Presented the 2012 PGA Professional Player of the Year award on Friday, Perry finished with a 72-hole total of 10-under-par 277, which was worth a check of $75,000 in the showcase event for PGA Professionals and the right to hoist the crystal Walter Hagen Cup. He is the first left-hander and the fourth North Florida PGA Section member to win the National Championship.
The 46th PGA Professional National Championship is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA.
Ryan Polzin of Houston, Texas, who came within a stroke of the lead before a wayward drive on 18 landed in a hazard, finished second at 280, after closing with 71. Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., was another stroke back at 282.
"This is by far the biggest win of my career; it's huge," said Perry. "Winning that PGA Player of the Year Award in 2012 made me think for a second, hey, maybe I am one of the better players in The PGA, and maybe I can compete on a consistent basis. Finishing second last year (in the Championship) at Bayonet Blackhorse, I know I didn't play my best.
"I felt if I could play a bit better, maybe I would have a chance. Thankfully, not one of our great players get hot like Matt Dobyns did last year. It left the gates open and I was able to come through."
JC Anderson of St. Louis; three-time National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill.; 2007 Champion Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va.; and Mark Sheftic of Blue Bell, Pa., tied for fourth at 283. Sheftic and Sullivan, who shared the 54-hole lead, faded after the front nine and each posted a 76.
Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, sprinted out with four front-nine birdies to climb within a stroke of the lead, but saw his chances end when he missed the fairway on the ninth hole, which led to a bogey. He later bogeyed the 14th hole and fell out of contention. He closed with a double bogey at 18 for a 72.
Perry elevated his game at the right moment on the challenging 7,489-yard Crosswater Club, which is a longer than any major championship layout this year. "The greens were relatively soft and you knew you had to play well," said Perry.
"You are always traversing the Deschutes River. Trouble is lurking at all times. You have to put the tee ball in play, shaping the shots consistently and eliminating that big mistake."
Perry sprinted to the lead with birdies at the second and sixth holes, catching Polzin, and added a birdie at the par-4 10th to give him a one-stroke margin. Polzin, the PGA head professional at Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston, stumbled with bogeys at 11 and 13, before staging a late rally that caught Perry's attention.
"I looked at the scoreboard after I bogeyed 15, which is something that I normally don't do," said Perry. "I saw Polzin birdied 16 and when I got to the green at 16, I saw him make a fist pump after a great birdie at 17. So, I stepped over my putt at 16 and knew that I had to make it."
It was a bittersweet day for Polzin, who was competing in his third National Championship, after missing the cut in 2009 and 2010. He took solace in being among the 20 low scorers to gain a berth in the 95th PGA Championship, Aug. 5-11, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
"To make the PGA Championship is a dream come true," said Polzin. "At the beginning of the week it was a dream of mine to play in a Tour event, and to make the first one a PGA Championship is unbelievable."
Polzin gave himself the best chance to catch Perry with a birdie at 16. He then hit a stellar tee shot to within 15 feet at the par-3 17th and made the putt for a second consecutive birdie.
"I felt like had a chance," said Polzin. "Then, standing on the tee at 18, I had hit a good drive there every day. But, I got quick and the emotions got to me a little bit and yanked it left, and made double bogey. I am not going let that get me down. It was a magical week for me. I am cashing the biggest check of my career. I made the PGA, and I gave myself a chance. I was tied for the lead after 63 holes. What more could I ask for?"
Perry leads the 20-member contingent to the PGA Championship, which will be his second consecutive trip to the Season's Final Major.
"When the bell rings on Thursday (in Rochester), everyone will be the same," said Perry. "Tiger included. I'm sure that he feels the same as all the other great players. You are only as good as you are that day. I'm tied with Tiger!"
Sheftic and Sullivan, the 54-hole leaders, saw their respective chances end on the front nine. Sheftic, a PGA teaching professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., birdied the first hole to grab the lead alone. The momentum end quickly by the seventh hole. His tee shot caromed off a spectator standing on the left bank of the green and landed in a hazard. He posted a double bogey and could never catch up. Sullivan, hoping to match his 2007 title at Crosswater, bogeyed the fourth, fifth, 11th and 12th holes and matched Sheftic with a 76.
Sheftic, a PGA teaching professional at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., opened the day with a birdie on the first hole to take the lead outright. That momentum ended abruptly on the 198-yard, par-3 seventh with a double bogey, the result after his tee shot struck a spectator and caromed into a hazard. He also added a bogey at 12.
Perry also leads a group of eight qualifiers into the 26th PGA Cup, which will be contested Sept. 20-22, at Slaley Hall in Northumberland, England. The PGA Cup, the equivalent of the Ryder Cup for the PGA club professional, matches 10-member teams from the U.S. and Great Britain & Ireland.
Eight members of the team were determined Wednesday at Crosswater. Perry will be joined by Small, Polzin, Dobyns of Glen Head, N.Y.; Sorenson, Kelly Mitchum of Southern Pines, N.C.; Sullivan and Sheftic, who earned a spot through a playoff after the Championship concluded. The remaining two U.S. team berths will determined following the PGA Championship.