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PGA pros vie this week for a chance to play in the PGA Championship

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PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida — PGA Professionals spend most of the year giving lessons, staging tournaments for their members, fitting equipment and running junior programs.

But this week, it’s their game that’s most important.

This week, they are hoping to land a spot in one of golf’s most precious events – a major championship.

The top 20 finishers (no ties) at the 53rd PGA Professional Championship earn spots in next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. The PPC, with 312 players in the field, starts Sunday and ends Wednesday at PGA Golf Club.

“It’s a great reward for the top 20,” said Jupiter, Florida, resident Patrick Rada, a PGA Professional at McArthur Club in Hobe Sound. “It’s an honor just to be a part of the tournament because everyone had to earn their way in.”

Rada is among 14 area players in the field, joining Jupiter residents Frank Bensel, Rushi Oza and Del Ponchock, Riviera Beach’s Matt Cahill — who takes over as Seminole Golf Club’s head pro in the fall — Dakun Chang of North Palm Beach, Tyler Collet and Ben Cook of Vero Beach, Matt Doyle of Hobe Sound, Rick Gomes of Tequesta, Kirk Hanefeld of Port St. Lucie, Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Zac Oakley of Palm City and Jason Robinson of Palm Beach Gardens,

The odds are not in their favor. Only about 1 out of 16 players at the PPC will get a chance to tee it up alongside defending champion Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy (who won at Kiawah in 2012) and the rest of the world’s best players.

Then again, 20 PGA Professionals will be playing in the year’s second major championship. Everyone at the PPC has a chance.

Alan Morin, shown competing in the Honda Classic in 2016, has been one of the most successful players in the PPC in the last two decades. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Morin, a PGA Professional at The Club at Ibis in West Palm Beach, has been one of the most successful players in the PPC the last two decades. The reigning Player of the Year in the South Florida PGA (in both the regular and senior categories), he has qualified for six PGAs in 16 tries. It will be harder for the 51-year-old competing against players half his age.

“This is our major for club pros,” Morin said. “It’s really special to represent your section and your facility. The members love seeing your name up there. We take a lot of pride in that.

“I think the best reason for my success is my consistency. More of the courses we play on are set up like major championships. Pars are a good score. You don’t have to go out and shoot 66 every day. But the courses are definitely getting longer for me every year.”

Cook is hoping to play in his third consecutive PGA, having finished among the top 20 in the PPC in 2019 and earning enough points last year when the PPC was canceled because of COVID-19 and the PGA of America relied on rankings.

Cook didn’t just make it to Harding Park in San Francisco, he got plenty of TV time because he had the good fortune of playing alongside Haotong Li, who shot a 65 that Friday to become the first Chinese golfer to lead a major.

“I made sure to walk ahead of him, so I’d get on TV,” Cook said with a laugh. “That was a great experience. He made it look super simple. He played most of his approach shots to the middle of the greens and was just hoping to make 15-to-20-footers.”

Pars won’t be a bad score at the PPC, as Morin mentioned, with the Wanamaker and Ryder Courses stretched to 7,000 and 6,850 yards, respectively. The courses should play firm and fast, which is the way the best players like it. There will be a cut to 90 players and ties after the second round and 70 players and ties after the third round.

Hall of Famer Sam Snead won this tournament in 1972 when he was 59. Hanefeld is one of the oldest players in this year’s field (64), so his expectations are toned down.

“Lately, the only thing I’m known for is doing something for my age,” said Hanefeld, who qualified for the first of his two PGAs in 1990. “My realistic goal is to play in all four rounds. This tournament is always special for club professionals because you’re playing with some of the best players in the country.”

With last year’s tournament canceled because of COVID-19, Alex Beach has been the defending champion for two years. All players had to be tested prior to the event and spectators will not be allowed except for family.

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/04/25/pga-championship-pga-pros-playing/

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