By T.J. Auclair, Stan Awtrey and The PGA of America
PITTSFORD, N.Y. - When St. Johns University Golf Coach Frank Darby called PGA Club Professional Rob Labritz on Monday to let him know he was playing in Keegan Bradley's group on Tuesday at Oak Hill, he was surprised. When he found out who else was making up the foursome, he was floored.
"I know Coach Darby, who coached Keegan in college. Frank works closely with the (Metropolitan PGA) Section," said Labritz, of Pound Ridge, N.J. "I let him know I would love to play with Keegan. So when he reached out to me last night and said to be on the tee at 8:30 a.m., I was pumped."
Labritz learned quickly how tough his competition would be, as he and Keegan faced off against Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson in a friendly match. Dufner and Johnson were 7 under through the first nine holes, but birdies by Labritz on 8, 10, 11, 13 and 14 helped get him and Bradley back in the match.
And after an unforgettable round, even in a losing effort, a few things were clear. These guys are good - and Labritz can play with them.
"I was 1 under on my own ball today," said Labritz. "I really think my game compares to these guys and they respect me as a player. Keegan actually told me that if I keep hitting the ball the way I was, I could win this thing. But he told me I would need to beat him first."
No matter the stakes, and the result of the match, Labritz emerged from his round having learned more than how his game compares with three of the game's best.
"I have a whole new respect for all three of those guys, not only as players, but as individuals," Labritz added. "They are a genuine and fabulous group of guys."
TOURNAMENT WITHIN THE TOURNAMENT: Rod Perry, winner of the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship, is one of 20 PGA Professionals teeing it up this week in the 95th PGA Championship. This marks Perry's second consecutive start in a PGA Championship after also qualifying to play last year at Kiawah Island.
"The conditions were extremely difficult at Kiawah last year," Perry said. "The wind blew extremely hard. You have to keep in mind that you're playing an extremely difficult golf course. It's not so much the relation to par that matters in these majors. It's kind of how do you stand up to your own test, if you will. So you kind of set a benchmark on what you think is acceptable play and what you would like to achieve, and hopefully at the end of the week, that's good enough."
While the ultimate goal for the 20 PGA Professionals playing this week is to make the cut, Perry will also be paying attention to the tournament within the tournament, so to speak.
"To be the low PGA Professional is a huge honor, wherever that might fall," Perry said. "And then as I mentioned before, you want to try to win every tournament you play in, and to sit here and say, 'Hey, look, I'm going to win, period,' when you're playing against Tiger and Phil and Adam Scott and obviously the other superstars of professional golf, might be a little bit naïve. But you certainly hope for the absolute best, and that's it. If I play well, I'm happy, no matter how I finish."
Sonny Skinner of Albany, Ga., will be playing in his third PGA Championship. Skinner is the only player to be named PGA Professional of the Year (2008) and PGA Senior Professional of the Year (2010).
"I have very low expectations," Skinner said. "I'm not playing the best golf of my career, but you never know ... the good can come on you at any moment. I'm putting on my rose-colored glasses."
CHOICES AT NO. 15: The 188-yard, par-3 15th hole promises plenty of drama this week. Fans watched at least a dozen balls go in the pond during Tuesday's practice round.
That's also the hole where The PGA of America is allowing fans to vote for Sunday's hole location. Fans can go online and choose one of four options for the final round.
"I guess that's OK, getting them involved," said Sweden's David Lingmerth. "The PGA has already made the choices, so it's not going to be anything goofy."
The choices are: A front location that brings the water and front left bunker into play; a middle left location that is close to the middle bunker; a back right location that brings the water into play; and a back left location that is the longest and brings the back bunker into play.
"Whatever they choose will be fine,' Lingmerth said.
WESTWOOD GETS A 'LIFT:' Golf tips are often given in odd places. Lee Westwood got a putting tip on Monday night while riding in an elevator with Ian Baker-Finch.
"I saw him last night in the lift," Westwood said. "He gave me a couple of things that we might want to work on."
Westwood hopes to add his name to the list of major championship winners. There have been 14 first-time winners in the last 20 majors. Westwood has played in 62 majors without a win and has even consulted a sports psychologist with hopes of getting over the hump.
"Since 2008, I feel like I've contended every time I come to a major championship and no matter what sort of level my game is at, I can operate for that week," Westwood said.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE FOR SULLIVAN'S CADDIE: PGA Club Professional Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va., is banking that his caddie this week may give him an edge when dealing with the challenges of the East Course here at Oak Hill. Sullivan's caddie is PGA Professional Brad Ewing of Blacksburg, Va.
The two met in 2003, when Sullivan competed at Oak Hill in the PGA Championship and Ewing was an assistant under PGA Head Professional Craig Harmon. Sullivan, PGA head professional at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va., is one of 37 returnees from the 2003 PGA Championship to this week's field. Ewing, now the PGA head professional at Blacksburg Country Club, moved to Virginia in 2006 and kept in touch with Sullivan over the years.
"I told Chip that if he ever qualified for the PGA Championship at Oak Hill and needed a looper, I would carry his bag." Ewing said. "This is the first time I've caddied in an event. I did caddie 12 years ago during the winter at The Floridian (in Palm City, Fla.), but that's been it for me. It's an honor for me to do this and my members back at my club are really supporting me this week. I have seen all of Oak Hill in my time here. I can help Chip with the spots where he should not be this week."
PGA CHAMPIONSHIP TRADITION CONTINUES IN OFFICIAL WORLD RANKINGS: With the opening round yet to be played, the field in the 95th PGA Championship would rank among the top-3 rated majors since the origin of the Official World Golf Rankings in 1986. The PGA Championship has 99 of the top 100 world-ranked players this week, matching the record set in 2012 at The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, S.C. The 2002 PGA Championship, despite 98 of the top 100, is the all-time points leader for majors, with all of the top 96 that year intact.
Last year, top-30 rated Ben Crane was injured, and this year top-50 ranked Louis Oosthuizen withdrew last week due to injury.
Since 1994, the PGA Championship has featured the most players in the top 100 in its field, and has recorded nine of the top-10 point events (as calculated by the Official World Golf Rankings) in major championship history. The 2013 Open Championship is ranked No. 10.
The Official World Golf Rankings Top 100 totals for the 2013 Major Championships:
PGA Championship: 99 Open Championship: 89 U.S. Open: 73 Masters: 63
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: Tom Watson, as he looked at Oak Hill PGA Head Professional Craig Harmon during his speech Monday when Watson was inducted into the prestigious Hill of Fame, here at Oak Hill:
"And, Craig Harmon, God bless you and your dad (legendary PGA Club Professional and 1948 Masters Champion Claude Harmon). They (PGA club professionals) are the people who carry the ball for this game, not the pros in front of the cameras."
Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters Champion, who finished tied for 23rd at the 2003 PGA Championship here at Oak Hill:
"I think more often than not, experience would help around a course like this. ... I think we've got five great finishing holes, a real mix, a mixed bag that will test every player differently."
Tiger Woods, on the East Course at Oak Hill:
"I liked it when I played here in '03. I think it's a fantastic golf course. It's tough. It's right in front of you. Really, no surprises out there. You just have to play well. This is one of those courses where you've just got to bring it ball striking wise. You've got to hit the ball well."
Shaun Micheel, who won the 2003 PGA Championship here at Oak Hill:
"There's a lot that happens to all of us in 10 years of time. ... I guess had you told me that when I hoisted that trophy on Sunday night and I went back to my hotel, if somebody had whispered in my ear that you're going to become a non-exempt player on the Tour and you're going to be a non-exempt player on the Web.com Tour, I would have said you were crazy. ... It's been frustrating I suppose. The injury, the shoulder surgery I had in '08, I just don't swing like I used to. My form just doesn't function the way that I need it to. ... But you know, I think nothing that's happened to me over the course of time is really unique in any way. I think a lot of guys, and even all of you can maybe relate some personal stories that have maybe affected the way you do your work. Unfortunately my work, I'm so exposed out there, and everything that I do, good or bad, or any of us do, it's out there to be dissected."
Hunter Mahan, who left just before the start of the third round of the RBC Canadian Open (which he led), to be with his wife in Dallas, who was about to give birth to their first child:
"The feedback's been incredible. Obviously the attention that's surrounded it has been unbelievable, as well, very unexpected. ...I think people are just ready for a great story in sports, and it was a great time."
REES JONES SIGNING THURSDAY: Acclaimed golf course designer Rees Jones, author of GREEN Glory, a visual tribute to the courses of the major championships, will be signing copies of his book along with renowned photographer Patrick Drickey, Thursday, (Aug. 8) from 1:00-3:00 p.m. in the Golf Shop here at Oak Hill.
HISTORY, ON DISPLAY: "The PGA Championship History Exhibit: Celebrating the Season's Final Major," is running through Labor Day at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. The exhibit honors each PGA Champion all the way to 1916, with rare memorabilia including: Tiger Woods' iconic black Nike shoes and Scotty Cameron putter; Phil Mickelson's wedge from his lob shot to win the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol; Gene Sarazen's niblick; Sam Snead's straw hat; Rochester native Walter Hagen's birth certificate from 1892, and his walking stick from the 1920s.
Defending PGA Champion Rory McIlroy and PGA President Ted Bishop toured the exhibit recently, where McIlroy unveiled his own donation to the impressive collection and tweeted a photo of 1970 PGA Champion Dave Stockton's shadowbox for Stockton himself to see. Meanwhile, a special new item was added this week: a personal plaque of Jack Nicklaus given to him by The PGA of America for winning the 1963 PGA Championship at Dallas Athletic Club. The item and rare photos honoring the golden anniversary of the Golden Bear's first PGA Championship victory 50 years ago are all on hand to see in this truly breathtaking exhibit at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
HEY, COACH, LET'S PLAY: Mike Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, spent some time with one of his former students today at Oak Hill. Small, a three-time PGA Professional National Champion, played a practice round with Luke Guthrie, a recent member of his Fighting Illini team and the 2012 Big 10 Player of the Year. Small earned a berth in the 95th PGA Championship by finishing in the top 20 at the 2013 PGA Professional National Championship, while Guthrie has two top-10 finishes in his rookie season on the PGA Tour.
DID YOU KNOW ...:
• Fourteen of the last 18 major golf championships have been captured by first-time major winners. They only champions over that period who had previously won a major title: Phil Mickelson, at the 2010 Masters and 2013 Open Championship; Ernie Els, at the 2012 Open Championship; and Rory McIlroy, at the 2012 PGA Championship. • In his rookie year, Jordan Spieth has not only become the first teenager to win on the PGA Tour in 82 years, he also has posted five more top-10 finishes on Tour. • PGA Club Professional Rod Perry is the first left-hander to win the PGA Professional National Championship. He did so in late June at Sunriver (Ore.) Resort, and leads 20 PGA Club Professionals to Oak Hill this week.
WEDNESDAY PRACTICE ROUND GROUNDS TICKETS AVAILABLE: Daily practice round grounds tickets for Wednesday are still available for purchase. All tickets for Thursday through Sunday are sold out.
95th PGA CHAMPIONSHIP ... BY THE NUMBERS:
6: Courses, including Oak Hill, that have hosted the PGA Championship at least three times (Southern Hills C.C., Atlanta Athletic Club, Oakland Hills C.C., Oakmont C.C., and Firestone C.C., are the others) 1916: The year the first PGA Championship was played; Jim Barnes of England won at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, N.Y. 1958: The year the PGA Championship was converted from a match-play format to a stroke-play format; Dow Finsterwald won in Havertown, Pa. 7,163: Official yardage at Oak Hill for the 95th PGA Championship