By Rob Labritz
It’s truly amazing when a life long dream becomes a reality. My dream of playing the PGA Tour started when I was 4 years old in Southington, Connecticut. There wasn’t anything that I wanted to do more than hit a golf ball and play all the time. It was my love, my passion and my emotional release. As a boy, I used to wake up every morning and play golf at Pattonbrook Country Club before I got on the bus for school – and then again as soon as I got off the bus on the way home from school. In college, I had a scholarship but found it way too easy to skip class and hit golf balls – so I only lasted two years after my grades weren’t up to par (a little golf humor). I had a routine for the past 22 years which included waking up, working out, eating breakfast with my family, heading to the club, checking in with my team, practicing for an hour, teaching some lessons for a few hours, having lunch, checking in with my team, teaching a few more hours, practicing for a few hours, checking in with my team, practicing until dark, going home and having dinner with my family, stretching or working out, a little meditation, and going to sleep. Rinse, wash, repeat! Not a bad routine for 22 years. The minimum work-out time was an hour a day and the minimum practice time was three hours a day. If there was more time i would find myself either working out or practicing in little increments, all with the vision of winning the qualifying tournament for the PGA Tour Champions. With visualization you have to see things to the smallest detail to make sure that the vision becomes reality. I had envisioned a phone call to my
wife thousands of times – and sure enough on December 10th of 2021, that phone call became a reality! To this day it brings emotions to the surface that I cannot control. Tears of joy which I don’t think will ever go away!
All those years of practice and playing finally paid off last year on December 10th, when I won the PGA Tour Champions Qualifying Tournament – by 3 shots, over 4 days. I’d finally achieved my dream – and it only took me about a half-century. I’d qualified to play on the PGA Tour Champions – amongst the best players in the world, over 50 years of age. I’m 51.
My rookie year on the PGA Tour Champions was one of the most challenging, fun, and eye opening years of my life. I went from being a local PGA Golf Professional who spent my days teaching and playing in as many tournaments as I could, to a full time PGA Touring Professional. I played in 26 events on the PGA Tour Champions. We traveled from Scotland to Canada and all over the United States. The purse each week ranged from $1.8 million to $4 million dollars. Next year, we’ll be playing for an additional $8 million dollars in prize money. Now that’s cool! I guess the LIV
“I MUST SAY I WAS A BIT NERVOUS, BUT HAD WAITED FOR THIS MOMENT MY ENTIRE LIFE!”
Golf Tour has had some lasting effects on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions. One of the nice things about the PGA Tour Champions that’s different from the PGA Tour, is that most of the tournaments are only 3 rounds, with no cut. The only exception to that are the Senior Majors, which are 4 rounds, and have a cut after the 2nd round.
My year started in February at the Chubb Classic at Tiburon Golf Club in sunny Naples, Florida. Coming from teaching in the cold snowy weather in New York, I would now be teeing it up weekly with the likes of Bernhard Langer, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, and Padraig Harrington. Such a better way to spend the week! I must say I was a bit nervous, but had waited for this moment my entire life! I was prepared, ready, focused, and just totally pumped to be there! I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a solid event as I finished in a tie for 18th and cashed my first check on the PGA Tour Champions. I was on my way!
After the Chubb we went on to play events in Arizona, California, and Mississippi. First month done, and I’d managed to have my best finish in Mississippi during that stretch, with a 5th place finish! The adrenaline was flowing those four weeks like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The rush of the crowds cheering, signing autographs, and playing pro-ams, was all right up my alley!
Each week out on the Champions Tour you have to really be on your game – both physically and mentally! When you’re playing against the best golfers in the world you have to bring your ‘A’ game. As a long time PGA Club Professional, who played in
numerous tournaments and 8 PGA Championships, I was used to playing at a high level; but playing full- time and at this competitive level is a whole other realm. In addition, as a rookie I was unfamiliar with most of the courses we played each week; posing the challenge of learning the nuances of each new course and adjusting my technique for chipping, pitching, bunker play and putting to fit the different types of grass, rough, greens, sand, and other elements. Most of my fellow PGA Champions Tour players have had years on the Tour and have the advantage since they’ve played each course before, numerous times from their PGA Tour days and now also as a part of their PGA Tour Champions play.
All the weeks of travel also took its toll. The schedule usually called for four tournaments in a row, followed by one week off, then another three weeks straight. I was playing 18 holes a day – for 30 to 40 days straight. It was a grind! Physically, I found myself strong and healthy. Besides always being out there practicing and hitting shots, I’ve always made sure I spend lots of time working out, stretching and getting body work done. Mentally, it was a struggle to be away from my family for weeks at a time – and I was particularly missing being home to see my daughters Ryan and Logan and my wife Kerry. I have a great support system at home, but I do try to put family out of my mind when I’m out there on the course. This was easy for me since golf has always been my sacred place. But my family was able to join me for a few tournaments which was really special. Seeing my daughters, son Matthias, and wife Kerry smiling and cheering me on fills my heart like you can’t imagine.
I was prepared to the best of my ability, but learned that I had to do so much more. …Like when I found myself in top contention for a win at the Dick’s Sporting Good Open in Endicott, New York, and a final round 75 derailed my chances for a victory.
The highlight of my year came when I finished 4th at the US Senior Open at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I found myself having the time of my life, and since it was so close to home, my family, friends, and members of Glen Arbor were able to come out to cheer me on. I played in the second to last group on Sunday, and was paired with golf legend Ernie Els! Such a cool day! The crowds at Saucon Valley really got behind me, which was a true unexpected treat! To feel the energy of the crowds is something that I dreamed about my entire life. It’s a feeling that I cannot explain, but I must say is one of the best feelings that I’ve ever experienced! And the 4th place finish exempted me into the 2023 US Senior Open in Wisconsin!
Golf is a crazy game! One day you’re on top,andthenthenextit’shardtofindyour rhythm and the putts just don’t fall. It’s all a learning experience – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Each week I’m out there, I’m constantly learning. I finished the season with two top-5 finishes and three top-10 finishes this year! I know in my heart that the PGA Champions Tour is where I belong – and that I’m on the right track to eventually achieve that victory! The biggest thing is that I’ve never stopped smiling – and will never stop smiling as long as I’m out on the golf course competing!
As the season finished out, I’d played well enough to make the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs. I had to be in the top 54 on the money list on the Champions Tour, and my position going into the playoffs was 34th.The playoffs consist of three events at the end of the season, and the fields are whittled down from the 54 players who make the playoffs, to 45 who make the second playoff event, to 36 who get to play in the last event of the season. I must admit that I was emotionally exhausted at this point in the year. It was November and I’d played more rounds of golf in one year than I’d ever done before. I had no idea what mental tiredness was until I experienced the second playoff event, the Timbertech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida. I shot rounds of 78, 75, and 71, to finish 49th in that event, which crushed my chances of playing in the final event of the season, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. I did, however, birdie my last hole of the season – and left the course with a smile!
I finished the year in 37th position on the official money list and 41st on the Charles Schwab Cup points list – which is good enough to retain my PGA Champions Tour membership so that I have playing privileges for the 2023 Season.
I’d like to give a huge shout-out to my family, friends, coaches, trainers and sponsors, including GlenArbor Golf Club, Centerview Partners, ICapital, Golden Child Holdings, V1Sports, Athlade, Orion Infrastructure Energy Partners, ToochUSA.com, Titleist, FootJoy, and Galvin Green, for all of the support throughout the season. I could not have done it without everyone’s help. It takes a village to succeed out on the Tour, and I am blessed to have my family and all the rest in my life. To Kerry, my beautiful wife…You are my rock and I love you with all of my heart!
After reflecting for a few weeks since the end of the 2022 Season, I think I should give myself pretty high marks. I was on a quick learning curve, and I gave 100 percent of my energy, focus and determination. I’m really looking forward to the 2023 Season, and applying all the lessons I learned this year, to winning on the PGA Tour Champions.
Heading into the 2023 season I’ve made a few tweaks that I’m sure will lead me to my goal of winning senior major golf championships. My off season prep has made me stronger and has helped a ton, and I feel even stronger than last year. My visualization is still in full effect as well. Since I’ve seen most of the courses in 2022, I’ll now be able to play 2 less rounds a week on Monday and Tuesday. This will free up my mind and save so much energy going into each week. I am sure that these small adjustments will save mental and physical energy throughout the season – which is key to winning on the PGA Tour Champions! And I can promise everyone that I’ll always be smiling, having fun, and making my dream of winning out there a reality.
I AM LOVING MY NEW JOB AS A PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS MEMBER!