Steve Schneiter’s twisting eagle putt at No. 18 Sunday at the PGA Championship lifted the Utah assistant pro 12 spots up the leaderboard and, at least symbolically, may have raised the status of club pros in an event that seems to be passing them by.
Twenty-five club pros began the week at crusty Baltusrol. Next year, that number will be reduced to 20, a decrease approved by the PGA’s Board of Directors in November.
The good news, however, is that PGA president Roger Warren said plans are in the works to boost total prize money at the PGA Club Professional Championship from $500,000 to $1 million.
Since 1994, the number of spots offered to club pros in the PGA has been slashed from 40 to next year’s 20. The reduction is partially because of the changing role of the club pro, from player to golf course manager, and a professional game that requires power and near perfection.
“It’s tough (for the club pros), hopefully they’ll be two or three or four guys compete and make the cut and carry the torch for us,” said Bob Ford, the club pro at Seminole Golf Club in Florida and Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club.
Despite one of the longest courses in major championship golf and even longer odds, four club pros made it to the weekend at Baltusrol. It’s the most since 1994, and Schneiter’s tie for 40th was the second-best showing – behind Chip Sullivan’s tie for 31st last year – for a club pro in a decade.
“I fell in love with the golf course,” said Schneiter, whose 6-over 286 total was better than major winners Fred Couples and Todd Hamilton. “It kind of suited my game and I hit it on the fairway. It was one of those weeks you have every so often.”
Joining Schneiter on the weekend were Ron Philo Jr. (T-66), whose sister Laura Diaz caddied for him; Mike Small (76th), golf coach at the University of Illinois; and Darrell Kestner (78th), head pro at Deepdale Golf Club in Manhassett, N.Y.
“It’s the ultimate test. It’s the hardest conditions on a championship golf course. These guys are used to seeing this and playing in this but we’re not,” said Kestner, who snapped a string of 18 missed cuts in majors.
The Lower Course’s length seemed to be the biggest disadvantage for club pros, most of whom hadn’t played in more then two or three tournaments this year prior to PGA.
Chris Starkjohann, who teaches out of the Hodges Golf Learning Center in San Diego, went so far as to replace his pitching wedge with an additional utility club.
“I played three practice rounds and didn’t hit one pitching wedge,” Starkjohann said. “We don’t see rough like this very often. This is like cabbage. This is just a different arena.”