TULSA, OKLAHOMA | Few things in golf are truer than the adage that golf professionals and professional golfers have two different careers.
Their annual intersection at the PGA Championship, this year at wind-whipped Southern Hills, serves as both a reward and a reminder of the difference between the two.
Twenty PGA of America professionals played their way into the major-championship field and though none of them advanced to the weekend, the payoff was getting there – though a weekend paycheck would have been nice.
“I was in the hole before I put a tee in the ground,” said Wyatt Worthington III, who will go back to his duties at The Golf Depot in Gahanna, Ohio next week, working behind the counter, picking up balls and giving lessons at a facility that features a driving range and a nine-hole par-3 layout.
Finances aside, it was about the experience.
Jesse Mueller, the general manager at Grand Canyon University Golf Course in Phoenix, will forever have the memory of holing a sand-wedge shot for an eagle on his first hole in his first PGA Championship.
It happened at the par-4 10th hole (his first), and television cameras captured the moment. A while later, Mueller looked up at a leaderboard and saw his name near the bottom. It didn’t stay there – three bogeys in a row later in his first round spoiled that – but Mueller already had his memory.
“For my first PGA to start with an eagle is pretty sweet,” said Mueller, who won the PGA Professional Championship in Austin, Texas, last month to lead what the PGA of America is calling the “Team of 20” at Southern Hills.
Back home, Mueller said, his young son was thrilled by what his father had done, even if he didn’t make it to the weekend.
There are those who argue that giving 20 spots in a major championship to players who spend their days giving lessons, running carts and listening to members is a mistake. It isn’t because the PGA of America has approximately 29,000 members who nurture the game at the grassroots level. It’s also the organization from which the PGA Tour eventually sprang.
Read through the biographies of the 20 club pros who made it here and 11 are assistant pros, not even their own boss. Twelve of them had never played in a PGA Championship before arriving at Southern Hills.
Worthington played his first PGA Championship at Baltusrol in 2016, and it took him another six years before he earned another chance. At least he had an idea of what was coming in eastern Oklahoma.
“The first one, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I never had experienced those tournament conditions. The rough was cabbage, the greens were lightning fast and the pin locations seemed like they were on the fringe. It shocked the system, I’m not afraid to admit it,” said Worthington, who posted matching 77s at Southern Hills.
“It’s great to be uncomfortable in a comfortable situation. That’s where I learn to grow. Taking that experience, I had an idea what the crowds were like. There’s a lot to adjust to, not just golf, but a lot of things that go on behind the scenes. I had a little bit of recollection from that. “
Contrast that with Brandon Bingaman, who finished T11 in the PGA Professional Championship to earn his spot this week.
“Just being here has been a huge goal of mine. You’d like to think you’re ready for it and it’s just different,” Bingaman said.
“Just the scale of it. We’re trying to navigate where to go, where to check in and all of that stuff. I literally rolled up to my first tee time (Monday) five minutes late, and the guys were cool enough to wait.
“Once you kind of get into the round, the crowds kind of blend in. I definitely got a little rattled in my own head starting the tournament. I was going so fast. I was worried more about crowd reactions to me while in reality even when I’m hitting god-awful shots out there they were crazy supportive.”
On Monday, Bingaman will be back at Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas, tending to members in the golf shop just like he was the week before the PGA Championship.
“It’s 40 hours in the shop if we don’t have tournaments, more if we have tournaments,” Bingaman said.
“The last couple of weeks members were understanding, so I got a little more practice time. You have to do the job and squeeze the golf in afterward.”
Though their careers are built around serving others who play, the common thread among the qualifiers at Southern Hills is their belief that with a little more time and perhaps a little more money, they could play golf for a living rather than make a living from golf.
“It’s a dream,” Worthington said.
For Saturday’s third-round tee times, click HERE.
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