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Corcoran passes along timeless pointers

With only one box empty on the scorecard, Rob Corcoran knew it was the finish line. For confirmation, though, the challenge was clarity. “It was so dark, so tough to see,” he said.

Then, a friendly face could be seen through the dusk. Bob Corcoran sits at holes nearest the clubhouse; at Valhalla Golf Club it meant the first and 10th tees and ninth and 18th greens.

“There are times when I say, ‘Why couldn’t he be a baseball player so I could just sit and watch everything?’ ” Bob said, laughing.

He rested on a chair to watch his son’s 36th and final hole of the 96th PGA Championship, and you could see what precluded Bob Corcoran from walking this expansive golf course. “Hey, it’s fine,” he said, acknowledging the left leg lost a lifetime ago in Vietnam.

“I was 19, but it’s OK. I came home and got all this.”

Arms spread to indicate wife Mary, who stood next to him, and son Rob, who was on the green, Bob Corcoran let it be known that the 2014 PGA Championship also was included in those things for which he feels blessed.

Mary Corcoran agreed. “A wonderful experience,” she said. “It was a learning experience for Rob. I always tell him, ‘Whatever makes you stronger.’ ”

The finish line in the PGA Championship arrived at 8:20 Friday night, scores of 76-77 leaving Rob Corcoran 11 over and well outside the cut. There would be a few days to exhale, but come Tuesday morning, Rob would be where he belongs, where he feels a sense of importance.

He would be at the starting line.

Corcoran, 38, teaches golf to kids at the sort of place where it is learned best. Poxabogue Golf Center on Long Island sits in the shadows of two of our country’s most iconic courses, Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America, where wealth is an endless commodity. Yet it’s at Poxabogue where the game’s value is enhanced and its spirit nurtured.

“I’ll be on the lesson tee at 9 a.m. Tuesday,” Corcoran said.

Presumably, his students will know that “Pro Rob” played against Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, that he had a better score than Matteo Manassero, that he played a practice round with Jim Furyk and 36 holes alongside Pat Perez and Brendan Steele. Chances are they will benefit for years from what they are taught.

“That’s what we do; we try to grow the game,” he said. “That’s my role at Poxabogue: to grow the game.”

Hockey was Rob Corcoran’s passion while growing up in South Windsor, Conn., but Mary Corcoran knew “that somehow he was going to make golf his life.” Though he didn’t play at Campbell University in North Carolina, Corcoran worked tirelessly at the game and came to appreciate its grass-roots culture.

He qualified for the U.S. Amateur when he was a junior and hung out with fledgling pros in the summer.

“(These guys) would eat breakfast, play golf all day, go home, have a couple pops, and I said, ‘That’s something I’d like to do. If I could just get this college thing out of the way, I think I could get the ball rolling with this,’ ” he said.

For five years after graduating, Corcoran lived the vagabond touring-pro’s experience. South America and Canada, mini-tours everywhere, and more state Opens than he can count. He played everything, but what eventually pulled at him was that slice of golf so underappreciated yet so crucial to the game’s health.

“I fell in love with the teaching side,” Corcoran said.

The road led him to Poxabogue, a gem of a golf facility, not for how it appears but for what it represents. Sitting on State Route 27, aka Montauk Highway, Poxabogue is the only public golf course in an area that is populated with a bustling citizenry during summer months. No bells, no whistles, no par 5s. For as little as $18, Poxabogue delivers 1,600 yards, nine holes of par 3s and 4s and an unpretentious experience. The reciprocal policy with nearby clubs is simple: Caddies who work at Shinnecock, National or Maidstone are welcome to play at Poxabogue.

Want more? Replays are $11.

Want food? Out back of the shop.

Want a walking course where the pace of play would please Usain Bolt? It’s here.

Want a celebrity sighting? No promises, but Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake came by for nine one day, Alan Alda and Alec Baldwin have been known to frequent and Jon Bon Jovi will stop in on those days when his 11-year-old son, Jake, takes lessons from Corcoran.

“It’s fabulous. Really a great spot,” Corcoran said. “It’s the perfect place to learn the game.”

A few years ago, perhaps 100 kids were in the summer golf program. This year, there are close to 300.

“We run four days a week for 10 weeks, three hours a day,” Corcoran said. “We teach them general knowledge, etiquette, rules. On the last day, we ask them, ‘What did you learn?’ ”

Mary Corcoran learned this after her son started working at Poxabogue: “I never have seen him happier since he started teaching there.”

The bulk of the 156 spots into the PGA Championship are reserved for touring professionals who own exemptions and lofty spots in the Official World Golf Ranking. Twenty are set aside for club pros who own something better: a vested interest in cultivating future players and fans.

Having earned his spot, Corcoran was serious about this trip to Valhalla. “I made the decision that I was going to come down and be focused on my golf, and not get rundown, but I was also going to enjoy the week.”

Congratulatory texts and emails flowed in from his students, both young and well-known (Bill Hemmer, the Fox news anchor). He brought along as his caddie Rob Sullivan, who played at UCLA alongside Brandt Jobe. Of course, Bob and Mary – who now live in Melbourne, Fla., where Rob is based in the winter – changed their summer plans. Instead of watching Rob at the New York State Open, they’d soak in the PGA, including Wednesday’s event that honored former President Bill Clinton for distinguished service to the game.

Mary Corcoran might never again see her son in a setting so grand, so for two days she patrolled muddy hills and ate in family dining alongside Tour wives and Tour kids to whom this fivestar service is a lifestyle.

Her pride overflowed; her son’s emotions were mixed. There were six double bogeys (“I might go months without making a double bogey,” he said) and the competitor in him didn’t want to rationalize that his time is spent teaching, not practicing.

“The way I like to play is never compound a mistake with another mistake, but this week, unfortunately, I kept doing that,” Corcoran said. “I just hit bad shots at the wrong time.”

Not that he didn’t get a sense of the competitive environment, because as dusk settled Friday, Corcoran’s playing competitors were fighting to make the 1-over cut. With seven holes left, Perez was level, Steele was 1 over and Corcoran was keeping out of the way.

They appreciated that he was there, though.

“Great story for growth of the game,” Steele said. “He said he teaches at a place where you can hit balls in bathing suits and flip-flops and there’s access for everybody.”

Steele, who learned the game at public courses, played the last seven holes in 2 under to make the cut. Perez played the last seven holes in level par to make the cut.

Corcoran? He played them in 1 under to make his parents proud and provide enthusiasm to bring back to the starting line.

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