FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK | There are golf professionals and there are professional golfers and the lines don’t often cross.
Golf professionals sell equipment, give lessons and make sure their members are happy. They make a living from the game, not by playing the game.
Professional golfers play the game for a living, their success measured in birdies, bogeys and par saves.
Every year at the PGA Championship – a major championship run by the PGA of America, an association that counts approximately 29,000 golf professionals as members – 20 of those professionals tee it up against the best golfers in the world.
This week at Bethpage Black, Rob Labritz, Marty Jertson and Ryan Vermeer – golf professionals – did what Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Sergio Garcia and others could not.
They made the cut at the PGA Championship.
They were no threat to win, but in a championship that causes some PGA Tour players to complain about club pros taking spots that might otherwise have gone to one of their own, Labritz, Jertson and Vermeer proved they belonged at Bethpage Black.
It had been 14 years since at least three club pros made the cut at the PGA Championship but their play reaffirmed one of the underlying missions of the tournament that gives the game’s working class a chance to compete against golf’s stars.
Woods is golf’s version of a multinational corporation. The same goes for Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. And while Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose get paid to wear logos on their shirts and caps, these guys sell logoed merchandise for a living.
“I just love it. I’m a PGA pro. I’m not a tour player. So any bit that I can do this and make everybody’s day and make them have a good time out here and get the crowds going, that’s what I’m all about.” – Rob Labritz
Labritz, 47, is the director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Vermeer, 41, is director of instruction at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, Neb. Jertson, 38, bends the mold a bit, working as vice president of fitting and performance at Ping, designing and fine-tuning the implements some tour players rely upon.
Asked where playing the weekend at the PGA Championship ranks among his life highlights, Labritz had a quick answer.
“I have two children that were born … Yeah, top one, top two. Just awesome. Incredible week,” said Labritz, who has shot 75-69-74.
They’re playing in the same tournament Koepka has dominated since Thursday but that’s about as close as they’ve come to intersecting.
“The only time I crossed paths was when I watched him on TV,” said Labritz, who had completed his third round before Koepka had fully warmed up for his Saturday round.
For Labritz, who has played multiple state opens at Bethpage, it’s like stepping into a different dimension. A big, brawny golf course got bigger and brawnier and significantly more crowded this week. He had his own gallery of local friends and family following him around Bethpage.
“I just love it,” Labritz said. “I’m a PGA pro. I’m not a tour player. So any bit that I can do this and make everybody’s day and make them have a good time out here and get the crowds going, that’s what I’m all about.”
Jertson missed the cut in his first three PGA Championship appearances but shot 72-69 to comfortably make the cut this year. His best work is done on the creative side where he has more than 125 patents credited to him, including the design of Ping’s new 410 driver, which he’s using at Bethpage.
Vermeer had to grind to make the cut, holing a 6-foot par putt on his finishing hole Friday to sneak into the weekend on the number. It’s the first time in three PGA Championship starts that he has made the cut. He won the 2018 PGA Professional Championship at Bayonet and Black Horse in Seaside, Calif.
“I don’t get a lot of time anymore to practice but I’ve had so many years of tournament golf in my history that I feel like when I get to a golf tournament, I know how to play. I know how to compete, so that stuff isn’t anything different,” Vermeer said.
In his yardage book, Labritz carries a message passed to him by his late friend Robbie Risman, who was killed in an auto accident. Risman was a member at the club where Labritz works and the two became good friends.
Whenever he plays, Labritz has the message in his yardage book. It reads, “Keep grinding always; but look around and enjoy the ride.”
On the weekend at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
PGA Professional Rob Labritz reacts to his tee shot during the first round of the PGA Championship. Photo: Montana Pritchard, PGA of America via Getty images
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