SEASIDE, CALIFORNIA | After sleeping on a three-stroke lead heading into the final round, Ryan Vermeer had gone 4-over par on his front nine and watched his lead evaporate.
That’s when he needed to buckle down.
Vermeer took his time over a birdie putt on the par-5 10th and rolled it right into the heart, the beginning of a stretch that won him the 51st PGA Professional Championship on Wednesday at Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses. The 40-year-old director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Neb., hit another shot close on the par-4 11th during the final round on the Bayonet course, converting a birdie to reach 4 under and then played steadily down the stretch, ultimately winning at 5-under 283 by two strokes over Sean McCarty and Bob Sowards.
“I’ve known for a long time that I have the game to win an event like this,” Vermeer said. “I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my life, but nothing like this.”
A former All-American at the University of Kansas who won seven times in college, Vermeer has been a dominant force in Nebraska PGA section competition since becoming a PGA professional two years ago. He tied for ninth in the PGA Professional Championship last year at Sunriver Resort, showing why he made 31 Web.com Tour starts after his time as a Jayhawk.
Vermeer is the second winner in the past three years who is the son of a PGA professional. His father, Bob, now a life member after retiring a couple of years ago, is known as the expert club-repair specialist in Omaha and was a head professional or director of golf for most of his son’s life.
“He goes to bed pretty early, but my mom said that he liked the way I was playing,” Vermeer said. “I’m sure he was nervous and excited watching today. I know I would have been.”
While both the Bayonet and Black Horse courses came out clear winners during the cold and windswept tournament that overlooked a foggy Monterey Bay, Vermeer proved to be the most consistent performer in the 312-player field. He fired three consecutive 2-under 70s before his closing 73, and he stuck to a specific game plan throughout the tournament: Favor the extreme right side of the tee box on drives and capitalize on the course’s firm fairways by hitting low 3-irons that would roll out to nearly 270 yards on some occasions.
There weren’t many hiccups in that plan until the final round when Vermeer double-bogeyed No. 2 and then made bogeys on Nos. 7 and 8. For a time, it appeared that even par could potentially win the tournament as the final threesome was a combined 15 over on its first nine.
But Vermeer settled himself on No. 10 and hit clutch shots when he needed them most, none more important than an awkward chip to the left of the green on the par-3 17th, which he calmly floated down to tap-in distance.
For his efforts, Vermeer receives a bevy of perks. For starters, he will play in the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in August and earned six PGA Tour exemptions he can use over the next year. The winner also receives $55,000 and a spot on the 2019 U.S. PGA Cup team.
“This is a life-changing event,” Vermeer said.
He will have company in St. Louis as 19 other PGA professionals also punched their ticket to the year’s final major. Other notable qualifiers included Sowards, a 15-time Southern Ohio PGA Player of the Year, and two-time PGA Professional Championship winner Matt Dobyns (even-par 288).
The event ended with an extraordinary nine-man playoff for the final five PGA Championship berths. Shawn Warren redeemed himself after a horrid 6-over 78 by being the only member of the ninesome to birdie the first playoff hole, while 26-year-old Dakun Chang made a bogey and was eliminated. That left a 7-for-4 playoff on the second hole, where Craig Callens made a bogey to go home.
The most dramatic moments of sudden death came on the third playoff hole, the par-5 18th. Defending champion Omar Uresti and 2018 U.S. Open participant Michael Block — the latter of whom made a treacherous 10-foot birdie putt in regulation just to get into the playoff — each hit the green in two and made birdie to advance. Former PGA Tour player Craig Bowden hit a nice pitch shot and converted his birdie. The three others made par and raced to the par-5 10th for a 3-for-1 playoff as the sun began to set.
Danny Balin, a 36-year-old from Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., came out the victor over Brian Carroll and Brian Norman.