Club pros struggle on Day 1 at Kiawah Island

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — After he graduated from the University of Texas, Matt Dobyns decided he would give PGA Tour Q-School a shot. He came up short but, perhaps more importantly, affirmed to himself that he would not chase that dream every year, as so many aspiring stars do.

Dobyns settled into the life of club pro, and at the start of 2012 he began his first job as a head professional at Fresh Meadow Country Club on Long Island, N.Y.

If he ever wondered what he missed by not pursuing the life of a tour pro, he got a glimpse of the answer on Thursday in the first round of the 94th PGA Championship at Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s Ocean Course.

“I’ve never felt so good shooting such a high score,” said Dobyns after struggling to birdie-less 9-over 81. “It’s really amazing how good these guys are. Just going around with José Maria (Olazabal) and Branden (Grace) today, and neither one of them played up to their standards, either, but you can see how incredibly talented they are. You can see the ability there is so, so high. It really makes me appreciate having a day job like I do.”

In June, Dobyns won the PGA Professional National Championship in Seaside, Calif., leading a group of 20 that qualified for the PGA Championship. Of that group, only 56-year-old Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., and Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Fla., broke 75 in Thursday’s first round and the average score was 77.3.

“I feel like I played better than I shot,” said Kelly Mitchum, an assistant professional at Pinehurst (N.C) Resort and Country Club. “But there’s not much forgiveness out there on that golf course and we played it, condition-wise, about as easy as it’s going to play with very little wind until the final few holes.”

If there was a common bond experienced by the club professionals, it was the anxiety of stepping onto golf’s biggest stage.

“It’s definitely been interesting,” said Michael Frye, the head professional at Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Ariz., who shot 79. “The first day I got here (Sunday) it was a little shock to the system, and the second day, too. I really didn’t start settling in until Tuesday.

“Just having the gallery everywhere, that’s something I’m not used to. A lot of times in practice rounds I’m hitting a lot of shots that I’m not really comfortable with, and I’m not really good at, so having someone there, judging those shots, is a little difficult. It’s something new for me.”

Added Dobyns, “Oh yeah, big time,” he said in response to a question about his first-tee jitters.

“It’s a major. I’ve never played in one. You never know how you’re going to feel until you do it and it was a very uncomfortable situation for me. If you’re not controlling it off the tee here, you’re faced with a lot of stressful shots and that’s basically what happened to me. I couldn’t control it off the tee and I put it in spots where you just couldn’t score from. It’s as simple as that.”

Dobyns played 72 holes at the Ocean Course even before Thursday’s opening round.

“I think I probably played too many holes leading up to this thing,” he said. “If I had to do it all over again I would probably play less, because I’m pretty tired. I played 18 holes every day leading up to this. That was probably a bad idea, but I thought the golf course probably had enough nuances to warrant doing that. Because it’s so tricky on the greens, figuring out where you want to be. To feel at home here you have to play it a lot, I thought, but maybe I overdid it.”

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