Competing at the PGA Championship

May 6, 2021

Local GlenArbor golf pro, Rob Labritz, competes at the 2020 PGA Championship…

Sunday, July 26th, 2020
Pro Prep
The preparation never stops in my life. Anytime my golf game can lead me to an opportunity, I will be ready. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been preparing for the first major golf championship of this Covid-impacted 2020 season, the PGA Championship, at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California. This will be my 7th PGA Championship appearance. A feat that has not been done by many at all. Especially as a PGA club professional, rather than as a touring pro. 

And I’ve been the lowest scoring club pro at the PGA Championship twice! In 2010 at Whistling Straits in Koehler, Wisconsin, and last year, 2019, at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. They call that ‘Winning Club Pro’; I call it a tie for 64th and and a tie for 60th place in the tournament.

I work out daily to take care of my body. It’s my tool to compete on the world’s biggest golf stage. It will pay dividends. 

I turn 50 in 2021, and have access as a ‘Senior’ to the Champions Tour, Senior PGA Championship, Senior US Open, and Senior British Open. I know I’m going to be able to compete at the pro level as a Senior, and if I didn’t think I could win, I wouldn’t be doing it…period.
They say age is just a number and I for one do not feel at all like I’m going to hit the half-a-century mark in my life next year. As a matter of fact, my beautiful wife, Kerry, is pregnant with our third child. They are calling that a quarantine pregnancy. I’m calling it a bonus baby. And by the way, I still feel like I’m in my 20’s.

Sunday, August 2, 2020 – Travel Day
Pound Ridge to San Francisco
I’ve never experienced packing for a tournament in the manner that I did Saturday night. Making sure I have enough antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, face masks (with the copper n95 inserts) were just a few things that I added to my packing experience. I’m heading out to this tournament alone. My caddy, Todd Luigi, arrived in San Francisco yesterday, so he could get the Covid test he needs to be allowed on the golf course property. I will have to go through daily Covid tests as well. One when I first arrive, and then daily temperature checks and questions to protect all the players and the caddies that are on property. We are not allowed to bring any family members. I was allowed to travel with two coaches and one trainer, but my two coaches, Bill Davis and Tom Willson, are both in their 70’s, and I couldn’t see them accompanying me to this event given the Covid risk. So, if I need any help, it will have to be via Zoom. Still, I feel prepared for battle.
There will be no crowds or spectators allowed – at all – on any of the four days of the tournament. No crowds is going to be a very odd feeling. To not hear a roar when you roll in a birdie putt, to not have thousands of eyes on your every shot, to not sign thousands of autographs, to not have the extra energy around the entire event. It’s a new experience for a major championship. But that gets me thinking, it’s just like the local events I play in, like the Lenox Advisors New York State Open, that Tiger and the gang haven’t seen for a while. Maybe the Covid impact on the PGA Championship can work to my advantage?!
  

Rob on the plane (hand sanitizer and all) headed out to the Championship
PGA Championship Check-in
Rob and his rental car
COVID testing at the PGA Championship

 

I haven’t traveled since early March and am flying JetBlue Mint out to San Francisco. It is mandatory to wear your mask at all times and I have more hand sanitizer and masks than I do golf balls. The PGA Championship is usually the highlight of my golfing year. It means the world to me. In just four rounds, your path as a golfer can be forever changed. I always go into a tournament to win, and the PGA Championship is no different. To win this one would be amazing, to say the least. It’s one of the biggest purses in professional sports, with $1,950,000 going to the winner! I visualize myself hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy daily as part of my preparation…and have to admit to at least a couple of those visualizations on this flight.
Just landed in a pretty empty airport in San Francisco. Grabbed my courtesy Cadillac – with only 14 miles on it! – and drove directly to the Covid testing area, where I’m pretty sure they just took a brain culture through my right nostril. Wow! Now, off to the one place that I always hit at least one time every time I’m on the west coast: In-N-Out. I think the two Double-Doubles with everything, and a chocolate shake, should be enough food for me while I wait for my test results. Just don’t tell my trainer, Curtis Jackson.
Negative!!! A quick change of clothes and I’m off to the golf course to start preparing for the week. Mark Twain said that thing about the coldest winter being a summer in San Francisco, and this summer is proving him right.
I played eight holes on the front nine, starting on #2, and called it a day. I want to avoid jet lag. The course is long and tight and the rough is extremely long, but it’s right in front of you. The bunkers are really firm, and I already had Titleist make me some wedges with a little less bounce to dig through the sand a little easier. Time to get to bed. Much work to be done tomorrow.

Monday, August 3, 2020
Settling In

5:30 a.m. alarm woke me up this morning, and I felt like my head had just hit the pillow. A quick hour work-out and stretch to get my body online is just what the doctor ordered. 

A nice warm up on the short game area and a few hours of range work to get my distances dialed-in.

I played the back 9 holes with another club pro, David Muttit, from New Mexico. I felt like I was prepared and ready for battle, and I hit a few practice drives on each hole to get used to the lines off the tee. I practiced out of the most severe areas of rough on the course that I could find, to see what troubles the course has to offer. If my plan goes well, I won’t see any of those areas during competition.
 
A little lunch and a few more hours of work on my short game and at the range. Back to the hotel for another work-out and a long stretch. The air is cold and my body needs the extra time to loosen up in the colder weather. I’m forcing myself to stay up tonight until 10 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, so I get acclimated to the time change. I have a practice round planned with old friend Rich Beem, Tommy Fleetwood, and Bernd Weisberger at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 
Full Day of Practice

5:30 a.m. alarm gave me enough time to get up, do my one hour work-out and stretching routine, get dressed, get to the course, eat breakfast, warm up, and get to the tee by 8:30 a.m. for my first full 18-hole practice round.
 
The course is long and the rough is up, so driving the ball in the fairway is paramount. My practice round went well. I’ve got a great feel for the course and understand where to attack and where to be a little more conservative. The new equipment feels great.
 
After the round I had to shoot a tip for Michael Breed’s show ‘Course Record’ that will air during the Championship. Then an interview with ESPN’s Sten Verret and Neil Everet. After that was an hour-long interview with the Associated Press about my past finishes in the PGA Championship and being the two-time and defending low PGA club professional.
 
Then back to the short game area to work on chipping and putting, before some time at the range for some swing work. Boom. Dialed in.
 
Back to the room for some stretching and dinner and a long overdue FaceTime with my family. Isaias hit Pound Ridge and GlenArbor pretty hard, there are a lot of downed trees blocking roads, and power is out, but Kerry texted me to say they’re O.K. It’s a lot on my mind as I prepare for my seventh major championship. Off to bed now. I have a practice round with Webb Simpson tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Anticipation

You try to sleep. You breathe. You calm your mind… and it just won’t happen. The time change is tough. That was last night. Only four hours of sleep. What a bummer. 

I have to be at the course today for a photo shoot that includes the 20 PGA club professionals that qualified for the event at 7:30 a.m. Then another Zoom call with the professionals on the Golf Business Network.

My practice round with Webb Simpson was at 11:15, so I was able to catch a 30-minute power nap before we played, which was totally needed. It was a nice surprise when Dustin Johnson joined us for a few holes. I’m getting very used to this difficult course. If you drive the ball well, you will have chances to control your ball into the greens. If you miss the fairways your opportunity to do that is taken away due to the length of the grass and how thick it is in places.

After playing, I worked on my short game and swing for a few hours. I’m feeling great about my swing and ball control. My length is right there with the top players in the world. Todd Luigi, my caddie, always reminds me of that. He tells me the other tour pros and caddies don’t believe that I’m actually 49. I have started to get a few “Labritz, you’re going to clean up on that Senior Circuit” comments from guys around the PGA. It’s nice to hear, but my task at hand is to hoist that Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.

Nice dinner at the hotel with Todd, my only company. We’re confined to the golf course and the hotel. What a weird time we are in. After dinner, quick work-out and stretch, and off to bed.

Thursday, August 6, 2020
First Day of Tournament

7 a.m. wake-up for my ‘late’ tee time at 12:52 p.m. Had a nice stretch and work-out to get my body online and ready to go. My trainer, Curtis Jackson, has given me the greatest warm up routine in the business and my body feels like a 20 year old. I used the ‘extra’ time this morning to get caught-up on emails and texts. I had hundreds of texts and emails of support, for which I am forever grateful. My daughter, Ryan, made me a video with a large poster board she made with the words “PGA Champion” on it, and my son, Matthias, sent me a voicemail with some great words of encouragement. 

Went to the course, had a great lunch and a sound warm up. It was very odd to have no gallery. This is definitely a story that I’ll be able to tell to my grandchildren (so they say). We have to wear a mask while we are anywhere ‘outside the ropes’ on the property – which means everywhere except the course and the range. Even in the locker room, masks are mandatory. It’s hard to recognize anyone, but we all nod to each other as we walk by. It’s so odd. You can only tell who people are by the logos and sponsors on their shirts and hats. When we eat and drink we can take the mask off, but even that happens only in designated eating and drinking areas.

The wind blew and it was cold, but I played pretty solid today. I was paired with Jim Hermann, a former club pro turned touring professional, who has two wins on the PGA Tour. We have the same coach, Bill Davis, which is cool. The other player was Shaun Norris, a big strong South African.
 
The one thing I want to do is drive the ball in the first fairway, but I hit a little draw which ended up in the left rough. Even though I had a wedge in my hand for the second shot, I couldn’t reach the tucked flagstick on the right side of the green. A nice chip to nine feet, and my par putt just slid by the left side of the hole. Crap. Not the start that I wanted. I refocused my energy and ripped it off the 2nd hole, cut a little 5 iron into the back right hole position to three feet, and calmly rolled the putt in for birdie. That’s better. The next hole was a par 3 which I ripped 6 iron to five feet, just below the cup, birdie. Now we’re talking! I parred the next par 5, and birdied the next par 4 with a 35 foot birdie putt! I saw my name pop up on the leaderboard. Now we’re moving in the right direction. Then I took a few bogeys, including on #8 and #9, which were playing very tough in the wind. Eight consecutive pars on the back nine and no converted birdies. I had my chances but none of them were able to find the bottom of the cup. A solid 309 yard drive on the last hole, and 155 yards left to the pin. I was deciding to hit 9 iron or wedge and settled on the 9, but just pushed it a yard and missed the green two feet to the right into some nasty grass. I didn’t convert the up and down and, there you have it, a 1 over 71. An o.k. score for the field, but not in my eyes. I played much better than 71. 
 
71, which was one over par, and about the highest that I could have shot. That left me in a tie for 48th. Disappointed, but still right in the thick of things. The wind was howling for a good portion of the round and I controlled my ball pretty well. I hit many fairways and greens and was a shot better than the field for that. My length was ranked as 41st in the field – not bad for a 49 year old club pro. My fairways and greens hit ranked in the top 20. Did I mention the wind was blowing?
 
I had a few interviews to do with CBS, PGA Tour radio, and the New York Post. Then off to practice. I was the last player on the practice facility when I left the course at 9 p.m. I have to get back to the hotel to eat, stretch and get straight to bed – I have an ‘early’ 7:27 a.m. tee time.

Friday, August 7, 2020
​No Wanamker…this time!
 
5 a.m. alarm. Get up, get the coffee, warm up my body with some dynamic exercises, and off to the course to get a quick bite to eat. The ’late-early’ tee times are the toughest.
 
The day started with a birdie, but didn’t turn out to be one of my best. I started on #10 and my iron play just wasn’t crisp. When the wind is blowing, and you’re not hitting the ball in the exact center of the club face, it becomes very difficult to control your distance and trajectory. 

 Sometimes this happens when you’re out there. I can’t explain it, but it happens. I will go to the television tape to see what my swing looked like during the round. Something was just a bit off.
 

I battled on every shot. I never give up, and have trained myself over the years to only focus on one shot at a time. This is something that every golfer should master.

You must always stay in the present and never dwell on the past or try to predict the future. I managed to knock-out a par-par finish after some great shots into the very difficult 8th and 9th holes. But I shot 76 and finished the 36 holes at 7 over par…below the cut line…an early ticket home.

A few quick interviews and I’m off to change my flight to get home a few days early – sans the Wanamaker Trophy. Definitely not the result that I wanted but like all missed cuts, you reflect, learn, and move on, taking all the tidbits from the week, and applying them to the ever-improving process. 
 
At the hotel, waiting for some dinner, and packing up…so I can get up early, stretch, do a Sirius XM PGA Tour radio show at 7:10am, and catch my 8 a.m. flight home. It never stops, but when you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I know one thing for sure, my wife and family will be there at the airport waiting for me, to give me hugs and kisses like they always do, no matter how I play. I don’t carry missed cuts with me, and definitely don’t dwell on the negatives. It’s all just a learning experience that will make me a better player in the long run.

Back to being Director of Golf at GlenArbor…after I quarantine…and training for the next tournament.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *