Corcoran's golf journey has made many turns

Rob Corcoran works out of Poxabogue Golf Center in Long Island.
Rob Corcoran works out of Poxabogue Golf Center in Long Island. ( Getty Images )

Thursday, August 7, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Polished in the Rules of Golf, Rob Corcoran has an appendix that visitors to Poxabogue Golf Center must adhere to.

“As long as you’re wearing clothes, I’m fine,” he said.

Which means tank tops, swim suits, flip-flops . . . all of it is welcomed. “If they’re willing to learn, then we give them a great lesson.”

Ladies and gentlemen of the golf community, if you’re passionate about the game and concerned for its future, spread your arms and put a warm embrace around your hero for the week. A round of applause, please, for a player who may not be favored to win the 96th PGA Championship, but should darn well be a favorite.

Corcoran, you see, understands that before golf can rise to the stature where we will see it played out at Valhalla Golf Club this week – grand, rich, sparkling – roots must be planted at the starting line. While most of his opponents in the season’s final major championship dream of million-dollar checks and chances to move up in the world order, Corcoran basks in the challenge of bringing people into the game, committed to a simple premise.

“Once they hit that perfect shot, they’re coming back.”

One of 20 club professionals who qualified for the PGA, Corcoran is even unique among his group of peers. While most of them work at private country club of 18-hole facilities and some (Jim McGovern, Jerry Smith) have PGA Tour experience and others (Bob Sowards, Rod Perry) have done this PGA Championship routine before, the 38-year-old Corcoran is as grass-roots as it gets.

Poxabogue is located on Route 27 – a.k.a. Montauk Highway – on the southern tip of Long Island, smack in the shadows of Shinnecock Hills and The National Golf Links of America. Reciprocals, perhaps?

“Absolutely,” Corcoran said. “They send people to us and we send people to them.”

Pause. Smile. Good humor.

“No, not exactly.”

But here is exactly what Poxabogue is: Crucial to the future of golf.

Lost in the glitz and glamour of high-end country clubs and their fancy bag drops, greens that run 13 on the Stimp, and exorbitant monthly fees is this: Where do they think their future members are coming from? Corcoran, in his small piece of the golf world, is providing that answer, having landed at Poxabogue four years ago after a most circuitous route.

A passionate hockey player growing up in South Windsor, Conn., he always enjoyed the competitive side of golf and figured he’d play at Campbell University in North Carolina. He never did compete much for the Fighting Camels, but that didn’t mean he lost his competitive appetite. In his junior year he qualified for the U.S. Amateur, then he started hanging around aspiring professionals who adopted a 24/7 embrace of golf.

“(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.’ “

Out of college, Corcoran gave the pro game a try for five years, from South America to Canada to Mondays on the Tour to “every minitour possible,” but when he pulled the plug on that phase of his life he didn’t give up on golf.

“I never said this is exactly what I’m going to do,” Corcoran said, thinking he’d be a head pro or a general manager or a lifelong assistant. Anything in the game. “Then I fell in love with the teaching side.”

Smack in the middle of one of America’s wealthiest enclaves, Corcoran feels blessed to be at the area’s only public facility. Imagine, when he walks just a short way along Valhalla’s fourth hole, Corcoran will have covered more than 1,600 yards – or the entire of length of Poxabogue’s nine holes – six par 3s, three par 4s.

“Everything is miniature,” he said. “You just take a big golf course and cut it in half, then shrink it down. We have small greens, we have small tee boxes, small bunkers, all fit into 20 acres.”

Never has small been so beautiful.

“It’s fabulous. Really a great spot. There are no electrical carts. All walking. It’s easy to get around. You hit every club in the bag and it’s in immaculate shape.”

You have heard of these initiatives to improve the pace of play and make golf affordable? Come to Poxabogue and play nine in 1 hour and 10 minutes for a cost of $28. Want to keep going? Replays are $11. Ah, bless the simplicity of it all.

“It’s the perfect place to learn the game,” Corcoran said.

With a bustling – and well-heeled – citizenry during summers in Southampton, one never knows who could walk through the door for a lesson. Bill Hemmer, the Fox news anchor? Corcoran recognized him. But three sessions into his time with the 11-year-old kid with the great smile, Corcoran was still not tuned in.

His colleagues in the shop asked him if he knew who the kid was.

“I said, ‘Yeah, Jake. He’s a good kid. He wants to become a caddie.’ They said, ‘Yeah, but that’s Bon Jovi’s son.’ “

A day or two later, Jon Bon Jovi walked in, watched Jake hit balls, and the proverbial light bulb went off.

“Of course, all making sense,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran has given lessons to Jon Bon Jovi and he embraces the time he spends with young Luke, whose goal is to get acclimated enough to golf so that he can get a job as a caddie at nearby Maidstone, like his best friend.

“Jake will warm up for 20 minutes, then we go play and his dad caddies for him, which is the coolest thing. I just kind of explain (to Luke) what the lure of golf is, why are so many people crazy about golf.”

People are into the game, but here is the crazy thing: They need a place to start. Enter Poxabogue, “the perfect place to learn the game,” Corcoran said.

Not that there aren’t some drawbacks.

“The range-picker kicking up dust in our face most of the day. No irrigation on the range, so we get a lot of dust,” Corcoran said with a laugh. “We like to say we get all of our minerals that way.”

While the passion to teach has consumed him, Corcoran hasn’t ever totally let go of the competitive urges. He gave the PGA Professional National Championship a second try this year and wasn’t discouraged when he opened with 73 at the qualifier. “I don’t know why, but I feel like I have a really, really low one tomorrow,” he said to his father that night.

Next day he shot 61, then at the national event he finished T-12. Corcoran was Valhalla-bound – and guess what? So were his parents, Bob and Mary.

“I’m on cloud nine, but I wanted to be able to share this with them.”

Competition will begin Thursday and the odds are stacked against Corcoran that he’ll survive beyond Round 2. He realizes that, but he focuses on the bigger picture.

“I’m living out a lifelong dream,” he said. “I’ve worked since i was 13 years old, trying to hit a golf ball straight in hopes that I could compete one day at the highest level. Fast-forward 25 years, a few missed putts and a few missed putts and here we are.”