ST. LOUIS – The key to playing well around Bellerive Country Club starts with finding the fairway. Club pro Ben Kern did so better than just about anybody else in the field this week at the 100th PGA Championship.
Kern, a 34-year-old from Georgetown (Texas) Country Club, hit 45 of 56 fairways, ranking second among players who played all four rounds.
“That’s been my strength for a long time,” said Kern, who was born in Abilene, Texas, and played college golf at Kansas State.
The accuracy combined with a respectable 284.1 yards averaged off the tee allowed Kern to notch the best finish by a club pro at the PGA in 13 years. Kern shot 71-69-67-70 to shoot 3 under and tie for 43rd, nearly better than the T-40 finish by Steve Schneiter in 2005.
That year four club pros made the cut. This year Kern was the only one – and just the third in the last seven editions of the PGA.
“It’s nice that we can get out from behind the counter or get off the range to get out and play an event such as this,” Kern said. “Maybe a little motivation for everyone around the country that isn’t doing what I’m doing to hit a few more balls and enjoy playing tournaments.”
Gave up golf for a time
When Kern was at Kansas State, he often competed against Gary Woodland, who played at rival Kansas and has won three times on the PGA Tour. Kern tried to make it as a touring pro, too, but decided grinding on the mini-tours wasn’t worth it.
He briefly gave up a career in the game, living in Tokyo for a couple of years with his wife, who was in the Air Force. In Japan, Kern got a sleeved tattoo on his left arm.
“That was before I knew I was going to get back into golf,” Kern said.
Kern eventually got back in the game as a club pro and managed to keep his game sharp. He won the 2017 North Texas PGA Professional Championship and was the Ben Hogan Stroke Average Award winner for the NTPGA last year. He earned his first PGA Championship ticket with a T-9 finish at this year’s PGA Professional Championship.
And last week he captured the Texas State Open on a tight driving course, Cascades Club in Tyler.
“It was the perfect prep for coming here,” Kern said.
Evidently. But Kern didn’t just hit nearly every fairway this week at Bellerive.
“Every step that I took was a memory,” Kern said. “Something I’ll never forget.” Gwk