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14 NEPGA Professionals Head to 2019 PGA Professional Championship

Fourteen New England PGA Professionals will head to Bluffton, S.C., at the end of April for the PGA Professional Championship, where 312 PGA Professionals from around the country will battle for 20 spots in the upcoming PGA Championship at the Belfair West & East Courses April 28-May 1.

PGA Professionals qualify for the Professional Championship through the Section Championship, which was contested in August of 2018. Some will be in the Professional Championship field for the first time, while others have made it an annual destination. Check out how some of New England’s Professionals are approaching this year’s PGA Professional Championship.

Check this page frequently as more Q&As will be added as the PGA Professional Championship approaches!

A four-foot putt coupled with an untimely weather delay put Brendon Ray’s nerve to the test on the 54th and final hole of the NEPGA Championship last August. Ultimately, Brendon, the Head Professional at Point Judith Country Club, drained that knee-knocker to secure his first PGA Professional Championship invitation, where he will tee it later this month.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter?
Brendon Ray: My prep work has mainly been practicing inside all winter. Short game work has been an emphasis as of late as the courses start to open up.  A few trips down south earlier in the winter helped to break up the off season.

The chance for participants to get out and play courses in tournament shape will be the biggest challenge. I am sure the PGA and Belfair will have both courses in phenomenal condition.  That will be the biggest challenge, being able to adjust to fast, firm conditions in a short time frame once on property. 

NEPGA: Describe your most memorable moment from the Section Championship that helped get you into the field in South Carolina.
BR: That moment was definitely was on the 54th hole of the Section Championship last August. I knew I was near the cut line to qualify for the PNC. I missed the green long and right on 18. I hit a great chip to about four feet and then the horn blew for weather. During the wait I learned that the four-footer I was facing would send me to Belfair. After play resumed 15 minutes later I was able to convert that four-footer and punch my ticket. That 15 minutes felt like an hour.

NEPGA: What’s the best advice anyone has given you heading into this tournament?
BR: To enjoy your time at the event. It is not often we as PGA Professionals get the chance to play in our National Championship. So, go out, have fun and hopefully your game gets hot at the right moment!

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
BR: I was able to head down in March to get an early look at both courses. Both are fairly generous off the tee but it is the second shot that really counts at Belfair. There is a great variety of holes on both courses that go thru the woods and then out into the marsh. Visually it was very appealing for me off the tee as most holes call for a draw. This hopefully will lead to a great week down in South Carolina.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional National Championship?
BR: My short game has always been a strength. If you have trust in that area of your game you can play aggressive and hopefully shoot some low numbers!

NEPGA: What are your goals at the PGA Professional Championship?
BR: My number one goal is to enjoy my time at the event. If I can accomplish this each day then the rest of my game should fall into place. Obviously, the opportunity to come in the top 20 and play in the PGA Championship is right up there, goal-wise!


Every April there are two types of golfers: those who are digging their clubs out of the garage for the first time in months, and those who spent the winter playing in a warm-weather climate. After spending his winter in Florida while many New Englanders were battling another relentless winter, Jeff Seavey, PGA, is taking some additional responsibility to represent the New England Section well at the upcoming PGA Professional Championship.

NEPGA: What has your experience been like at previous PGA Professional Championships?
Jeff Seavey: I’ve never made it to the PGA Championship, unfortunately. I’ve been very close. My closest was in 2006. I was in 12th to 14th place with two holes to play, and I made double-bogey on the 17th hole and knocked myself out of it. I missed the PGA Championship by a shot.

In the previous nine times I think I’ve made the cut three times, possibly four. I’ve never seemed to come into that tournament hitting on all cylinders. The year I almost made it was the only year that I seemed to really hit on all cylinders. I’ve just never seemed to get it going. It is, I think, the toughest tournament we play in terms of making the cut.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter? What has your prep been like?
JS: I think the schedule change does make a difference. A lot of the guys that you see who are very good players, a lot of them are doing some seasonal stuff anyways. Guys like Shawn Warren and (Rich) Berberian, they’re definitely playing golf throughout the year. But you have some guys like Jeff Martin, who is a buddy of mine, he’s not going south. He’s at a disadvantage without a doubt. But the other side of that is, when they used to have it in June, that’s the beginning of our season. The guys up north, the golf courses open up, effectively May 1, but they’re not in great shape until we get into the mid to late part of June, so guys still haven’t had a chance to play on any conditions that are close to that.

NEPGA: Describe your most memorable shot/moment that helped get you into the field in South Carolina.
JS: The shot that I remember the most, in the final round on the ninth hole I hit a very good drive and knocked it on the front fringe of the green and made it for eagle. I knew at that point that I was going to make it into the field unless I did something really stupid coming home. That put me a couple under for the day and I think I shot three under. I knew at that point I was in pretty good shape.

NEPGA: What have you learned from previous appearances in the PGA Professional Championship that you can use to your advantage?
JS: If somebody was going to give me even par right now, I would take it in a heartbeat. Probably 95 percent of the time that puts you in the PGA Championship. The golf courses aren’t set up ridiculously hard, but it’s a true test of golf. Even-par is a good round. One or two under par is a very good round, and if you can put it in the 60s, you’re playing some exceptional golf. So you don’t have to go stupid low. I don’t have to shoot 31 for nine holes. If I shoot 35 or 36, at the end of the day I’m going to be in really good shape. It’s hard to stay that patient, but that’s really the answer. Don’t do anything stupid, and if you just shoot one under par or even every nine holes, at the end of the four days you’re going to be in great shape.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
JS: I’ve probably played that place 15-20 times at least. I know the golf courses. It’s been 10 years since I’ve played them at all, but I do know the golf courses. I don’t know if that allows me anything more than just a little bit of comfort having played there a few times. The first few practice rounds I’m not going to spend my time trying to remember all the holes, I can spend more time strategizing how I’m going to handle different conditions. I know how it’s played in the past but set up for a championship it may play differently. That’s a great thing in my pocket. Also, the fact that my buddy, who was a member there, is going to caddie for me in the tournament. That’s a huge advantage. In his day he was a 1-2 handicap, so he understands how the golf course plays. I’m not going to have a 25-handicapper on my bag.

NEPGA: What are the strengths of your game heading into the PGA Professional Championship?
JS: Like all of us, we don’t think any part of our game is a strength, we think we’re bad at everything. But I guess the biggest thing that’s always helped me, I’ve always been a pretty good driver of the golf ball. I’m not the longest guy out there, and I definitely haven’t gotten longer as I’ve gotten older, but I can put the ball in play, and I’m a solid iron player. If you give me some stock numbers with a wedge in my hand, I’m probably going to give myself a pretty good look at birdie. I average 12-14 greens per round and if I’m playing good it’s 16 or 17. The key for me really comes down to, do I have a good week chipping and putting? Because if I’m chipping and putting well, I can go out and shoot 2- or 3-under per day and be in great shape. But the putter doesn’t always show up. I think most of us have that problem.

NEPGA: Do you have any experience at Bethpage?
JS: I have no experience there, none at all other than what I’ve seen on TV at the US Open. It sounds like it’s a beast. It’s a very big golf course. Competing there would be a phenomenal experience. If I got there I would try to keep it in play as much as I could and see if I could shoot some respectable scores. To make the cut at something like that, for me I’d have to play perfect golf. I’ve had no experience there. If the weather is suspect at all it can beat you up pretty quickly.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
JS: Top 20, without a doubt. Making the cut is an expectation. I expect myself to play well enough to make the cut. I can’t keep up with a lot of these guys where they hit it, and I’ve figured out over time that I’m not even going to try. I’m going to have a wedge into a green on a par 5 where other guys will knock it on in two with an iron. I’m going to hit driver, layup with a hybrid, and hit a sand wedge into the green. My goal is if I can play solid golf, I think I can challenge the top 20. If I happen to have a week where I’m hitting on all cylinders, there’s always a chance you can challenge the winning score. I’ll be curious to see what the scores are at the Belfair. When I’ve played it in the past it’s been a very scoreable layout. It’s not easy but I think you can make a lot of putts there. There seems to be a lot of holes where you can make birdies. You can also make a lot of bogeys if you hit it in the wrong places.

NEPGA: Final Thoughts heading into the Championship?
JS: I’m one of the fortunate guys from our section. There are some guys that are put in a slight disadvantage that don’t get a chance to spend their winters in Florida. I think it’s my responsibility to ramp myself up and get ready for this tournament because I have the opportunity. I need to take it upon myself to work hard to play as well as I can.

Redemption. That might be the best word to summarize Shawn Warren’s first five PGA Professional Championship appearances. He came up short a few times. Eventually, he played well enough to get into a playoff with a PGA Championship bid on the line, before falling short again. In 2018, he found himself in the lead early on the final day of the tournament, but finished the day in another playoff for a top-20 spot, where he finally punched his first ticket to the PGA Championship. With all that history, there’s no telling what the future will bring, but Shawn is aiming high in 2019.

NEPGA: What have your previous experiences at the PGA Professional Championship been like?
Shawn Warren: Every single year I’ve come pretty close to qualifying for the PGA Championship, missing by one or two. I lost in a playoff at the Cricket Club in Philadelphia, and then this past year I ended up making it through in a playoff and I was able to play in the PGA Championship.

NEPGA: What was that experience like?
SW: It was unbelievable. To this point, the highlight of my golf career. To not only tee it up in a PGA Tour event but have my first event be a major. It was pretty nerve-wracking but once you get out there and start playing it’s just golf. I was really enjoying it, especially at that level with the expectation-level, being your first one, it’s not that high. Just going out there and really soaking it in and enjoying each moment was my number one goal. At that point if you get too up-tight your performance will reflect that. I really just tried to enjoy every moment and I feel like I did a pretty good job of that.

This year I’m really looking to build off what I learned last year at the PGA. Hopefully I’ll be able to utilize that experience to maybe play a little better this year at the Professional Championship and hopefully get in that same position I was in last year where I would have a chance to play in this year’s PGA.

NEPGA: Will having the experience of making it through in a playoff last year be something you can use to your advantage this year?
SW: Absolutely. I think with anything in golf, it’s really hard when you have people tell you that ‘you’re going to build off this experience of having disappointments’, but it’s really been true in my career. The first time I was in a playoff I missed, and then last year being in a playoff and making it through, utilizing that experience of ‘okay, we’ve been here before’ and the same thing goes with last year, I had the lead with 16 holes left in the Professional Championship, and wasn’t able to play great golf coming in, so I’m hoping that this year and years going forward I can continue to put myself in that position and close the door.

NEPGA: What stood out to you from the NEPGA Section Championship?
SW: At last year’s Section Championship I had just finished playing in the PGA Championship, so I was actually exempt into this year’s PGA Professional Championship before the Section Championship had begun. It was a nice feeling. Qualifying for the national club professional is your initial goal when you start playing in the Section Championship and then hopefully you have a chance to win the actual tournament. For me right from the beginning my sole goal was to try and win the tournament. Obviously, I fell a few shots short.

NEPGA: What has your prep been like?
SW: I went up there and saw the golf course, I thought that was extremely beneficial. I’ve been playing some events for right now, but now with it being three weeks away, this will be the point where I start to get a lot of good work in every single day. I’ll make sure that my game is where it needs to be going up there. I am fortunate right how that a lot of people, not just in New England, but the entire country, they’re not really going to have that opportunity. I will definitely be taking advantage of the fact that I’m in 85-degree weather everyday and we have 13 hours of sunlight.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
SW: I went up for a four day trip a month back. I played a few rounds of golf up there and got a little lay of the land and figure out what was going to be ahead of us at the end of the month?

NEPGS: How’d you feel about it?
SW: I think that they’re both nice golf courses. Being able to get up there and see them was definitely worthwhile. I wouldn’t say they’re exactly tailored to my game but having said that, I know what to expect, which will serve me well. Knowing where my game needs to be sharp and where you’re not going to be able to utilize some stuff. There are definitely some things, looking at what I learned last month, I’ll be able to work on in the coming weeks to get ready.

NEPGA: What are the strengths of your game?
SW: Getting off the tee I’m normally above average. That sets up my entire game, if I’m driving it well I’m able to take advantage of a lot of golf courses utilizing my length and being able to hit driver on a lot of holes because it’s normally pretty accurate. Just like anybody, when my putter is where it needs to be, normally that’s a sign of good things.

NEPGA: Have you ever played at Bethpage?
SW: I have not personally, but just from having a lot of close friends up in the Met Section and New York guys who actually play their State Open there every year, just from over the years talking to those guys it’s always been a funny conversation. Those guys letting me know ‘if you were to get out here and play, this golf course is really tailor-made for you.’ I think a lot of that is due to the fact that it’s a big long golf course that requires some length off the tee as well as some accuracy. It’s just a course that really sets up for guys who can get it out there. Especially playing the tournament in the middle of May, when it might not be as firm and fast, and it might be cold, I think the golf course is really going to play long.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
SW: Just like any tournament, I really want to win this tournament. I’ve seen two of my really close friends do it the last three years. Seeing those guys be victorious and knowing that they had enough game, gives me hope that, given the situation with having the lead last year with 15 holes left, I know that I can get myself in that situation. That’s the only goal I will have this year. And if that is not able to work out, and I’m not in contention, then obviously getting back to the PGA Championship would be unbelievable. But going into the tournament, trying to stay as connected as I can to the lead and not focusing on the cut number, because sometimes you can actually play to the cut-number as opposed to going out there and trying to stick to you number-one goal and staying close to the lead.

Chip Johnson, PGA, will have his wife, Pam, on his bag and not a hint of pressure on his mind when he competes in the PGA Professional Championship at the end of April. As far as he’s concerned, he’s got nothing to lose as he attempts to qualify for the PGA Championship for the second time in his career. But despite the calm exterior, Johnson’s self-described “Jon Rahm” moment at the NEPGA Championship last August nearly cost him a tee time at Belfair.

Do you have any idea how many times you’ve played in the PGA Professional Championship?
No. I was on the every-other year plan for about 15 years. Six or seven times maybe. I’m guessing. Back in 2005 the Club Professional (Championship) was at Kiawah and I had a phenomenal last round and I passed everybody and I shot 67 at the Ocean Course. I was playing okay, but I don’t know where that round came from. It was nasty and windy and I finished maybe seventh or eighth. Not only that year did I get invited to the PGA at Baltusrol, but I played in the (PGA) Cup Team matches over in Ireland.

What was the PGA Cup experience like?
That was awesome. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I didn’t even know what it was. I had finished and I was in a playoff and one of the rules officials said ‘your score might be good enough for the Cup Team’ and I looked back at my wife and I said ‘Pam, what’s the Cup Team?’ And she said ‘Chip, I don’t know.’ I found out later and it was one of the most awesome golf experiences I’ve ever had. In that particular year I think the Ryder Cup followed the following year so it was a prototype, like a preview of everything they needed to figure out for the Ryder Cup. We stayed at the K Club, we played at the K Club Golf Course. It was incredible. We went to see the ambassador over in Ireland. It was so much fun.

Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter?
I got down to Florida for pretty much all of the events in January. It was great prep but I’ve been home since the first week in February so then you hang ‘em up and reintroduce yourself. I played yesterday. Once you get down there I think things will be fine. For me, as a club professional, (the PGA Professional Championship) actually comes at a better time because it’s not busy up here. I’m not going to be missed as much here from a working capacity. So actually, it’s probably more relaxing.

June can be tough.
Yea, it’s right in the middle of when everything is getting really going. If you really take advantage and play the practice rounds, you’re gone for the four days of competition plus two or three practice days, you’re gone for potentially over a week. So it’s hard, but at the end of April they won’t even know I left!

Describe your most memorable shot from the Section Championship that helped you reach the PGA Professional Championship.
I had played really well for two days and then the last day I was scrapping a little bit. On the last hole I had a shot that was probably not the smartest shot, I’ll call it a Jon Rahm moment, I forced things and lost my composure a little bit and I tried to hit a shot that I probably shouldn’t have hit. It was out of the left trees and I had to go under branches but still wanted to carry this water hazard with these big high reeds in it and I hit a shot that I thought was perfect and much to my surprise it wasn’t even close. I dunked it in the water and I had a feeling at the time I was pretty close to the number. So now I had to play a shot over the water again. So I dropped it and I wedged it in there to about six feet, and that calmed me down a little bit. I called it a Jon Rahm moment, but I could have had a Jordan Spieth moment up around the water hazard there. Especially when your brain is cooking and you’re just trying to get done. I would say that shot, it could have been disastrous, but it worked out.

So I assume you made the six-footer?
I did not (laughs)! There’s not a happy ending, no. I did not make it, but I wound up right on the number. I thought for sure that I had butchered that last hole.

What can you take from your previous experience to use to your advantage this year?
I haven’t seen the golf course yet, I’ve heard it’s pretty good. I’ve heard the West Course is really good. Going back to that story of last year’s Section Championship, just staying patient. I know that’s an overused expression in golf, but if you just hit the shots, drive it good and take what it gives you. I’ve been there a few times and I don’t think you really need to go crazy to play well. You just have to grind it out and not lose your composure and not start forcing things.

Who is going to caddie for you?
My wife, Pam. She played the ladies tour for seven years and she’s a great caddie, keeps me calm. Plus I caddie for her a bunch, so it’s a little bit of a payback.

If you have a great week at the Professional Championship, what part of your game will be the strength that helps get you there?
Putting. Putting, most definitely. I was thinking about that the other day. I don’t think I’ve ever really had a great finish playing golf without feeling like the putting was really good.

What are your goals at the Championship?
That’s a good one. Just to give it a chance, keep steady, keep to my game plan. If I can manage to drive it off the tee and take advantage, and get the putter going a little bit, I think I can do well. I don’t necessarily have an objective or a goal as far as a specific finish, but I would certainly love to think about playing in another PGA Championship. That would be awesome.

Do you have any experience at Bethpage? Have you ever competed or played there?
No to all of those. No. I’ve heard it’s a bear. It’s long and it’s especially interesting that it’s the PGA Championship, it’s not the Senior PGA. That’s going to be really testing my driver to get it out there. I’ll be hitting rescue into every hole.

Any final thoughts heading into the Professional Championship?
It’s been a couple of years since I qualified for the regular Professional Championship. I have nothing to lose. I’ll just go down there and hopefully catch a little fire with my game. As far as pressure, I don’t really feel any.

Kirk Hanefeld, PGA, is no stranger to high-level golf. He has played in two PGA Championships (1990, 2013), one U.S. Open (1990), 71 Champions Tour events – making 65 cuts – and has won three New England Section Championships. He’s won two Senior PGA Professional Championships and lost count of how many times he’s played in the PGA Professional Championship. Later this month, Hanefeld will be up against a younger field full of long hitters at the PGA Professional Championship, but oddly enough, he’ll rely on his driver to give him advantage.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter?
Kirk Hanefeld: I go to Florida, and I have gone to Florida over the winter in previous years. This particular winter was a little unique. My wife had some surgery about a month or so ago, so I’ve been back here for about a month, which is way earlier than I would normally be here. Even though I spent most of the winter in Florida, I haven’t played in about a month, so my preparation is going to be at a minimum.

NEPGA: What can you take from previous PNC experience to use to your advantage this year?
KH: I’m so old now, and played so many events, that experience, I’m not sure how much it’s worth now. Anytime you play in a decent-sized tournament, it’s good. Unfortunately, because of the time of year, I don’t know how ready I’m going to be. Distance, for me, has really become an issue with the length of the golf courses we’re playing. My experience will help, as it does in any event, but I’m not sure how measurable that is.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
KH: Interestingly enough, I was Director of Golf out at the International in Bolton, 10, 12, 15 years ago. We had a couple members there who were members (at Belfair) and I used to go down and play in a Pro-Member at Belfair. I played three or four years with them. I’ve played both golf courses and they’re both terrific. They’re going to look longer now than when I played there before, but they’re really good, Fazio golf courses. We’re going to play it long, so it’s going to be a tough test for sure.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength at Belfair in the Professional National Championship?
KH: I remember it being fairly narrow so driving the golf ball directionally is probably one of the stronger parts of my game. A lot of the juniors who will be playing that event will be hitting probably something less than driver on a lot of holes, but I’ll be hitting driver on every hole and fortunately I hit it fairly straight. I would be better off on a golf course like that than some wide-open long course that I would have very little chance at.

NEPGA: Do you have any experience at Bethpage?
KH: I have never played there before and to tell you the truth, five years ago when I qualified for the PGA it was at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, and I came very close to not entering because I knew how long and hard it was going to be and I was 57 years old at the time. I did end up playing and I only missed the cut by a couple, I believe. I played okay but these golf courses are just so ridiculously hard and long. If I happen to make every putt I look at down in South Carolina and I qualify, it would be hard-pressed for me to play the tournament (PGA Championship) because I wouldn’t be able to reach the fairways in that tournament if it came do that.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
KH: To tell you the truth, my goal is just to make the cut, just being realistic. There’s an awful lot of good, young club professional players in the country. For me to be able to play four rounds, I would be very pleased with playing four rounds. I have no illusions of qualifying for the PGA.

NEPGA: Any additional thoughts?
KH: I’m getting down to the end of my time to play in tournaments like this. This very well could be my last one. I’ll just go down there and do the best I can, hopefully make the cut, and come back to work.

Growing up in New York, Liam Friedman, PGA, had an annual appointment at Bethpage Black, where he competed in several State Opens. With the PGA Championship coming to Bethpage next month, Friedman would love the opportunity to return to his favorite course for his first PGA Championship. But as he prepares for his third PGA Professional Championship at Belfair of Bluffton, South Carolina, Friedman is aiming for more than a top-20 finish.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter?
Liam Friedman: I was down in Florida for a few months. It will be different, after this year I’ll have a better idea. Typically, my first event of the year is the U.S. Open local qualifier. You don’t get too many rounds in before that. I’ll play that the week after I come back.

NEPGA: What was your preparation in Florida like?
LF: I played the Winter Championships, so I was practicing. I felt like I got better while I was down there. Since I’ve been back I’ve been trying to hit indoors and at least stay loose. I’m looking forward to the first Stroke Play and the couple events that I can play here before I head down south.

NEPGA: Did you have a memorable shot, or moment from the Section Championship that helped you reach the Professional Championship?
LF: I was pretty safe, I thought, going into the final round last year, as long as I just didn’t blow up. But I started to blow up in the final round. I made a really nice, about eight-footer for par on the sixth or seventh hole, then I birdied the next two holes. The real key was on maybe hole 13 in the final round I hit a 6-iron on a par-5 to six feet and made eagle. I knew I was safe then. But really, the par putt I made on number seven was big for keeping me in the ballgame.

NEPGA: That one settled your nerves?
LF: I wasn’t really nervous, I just wasn’t playing golf the way I play golf. I was like ‘what is going on.’ Then I made a 30-footer for birdie on eight and a tap-in birdie on nine, and after the tap-in on nine I was like ‘I’m set again.’

NEPGA: What’s the best advice anyone has given you heading into this tournament?
LF: The best advice, really, is my own experience in going out there to play and seeing what it’s like and seeing the atmosphere and seeing how the best club pros in the country play. The experience has been very valuable to me.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
LF: I don’t really know much about it, I haven’t played down there. I’ll just play practice rounds and figure it out. If I hit the ball where I’m looking and make putts, it doesn’t really matter what the course looks like.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional National Championship?
LF: Usually my iron play – I like to lean on that. If you can hit your irons solid and hit greens, you’re not going to make too many bogeys. I hit it a long way too, so if I’m driving it well then that takes pressure off my irons and gives me a lot of opportunities for birdie.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Professional Championship?
LF: I’d love to win the thing. Definitely being in the top 20 is a huge goal of mine with the PGA Championship being at Bethpage this year. Bethpage is probably my favorite course. I’m from Buffalo, so I used to play the State Open at Bethpage every year, so I just really love it there. I’d love to finish top 20 and go to the PGA there.

NEPGA: What are your favorite memories from Bethpage?
LF: I only played Bethpage in the State Open. I had a round at Bethpage where it was the final round of the last State Open I played. I made the cut but was in the middle of the pack. It was the worst ball-striking round I have ever had as a professional. I hit three greens in regulation, made two birdies, and I had one blow-up hole with a triple, and I think I shot two-over on the day and moved up like 20 spots on the leaderboard. I got up and down, I don’t know, 13 of 15 times, or something like that. It was crazy. Bethpage is such an awesome place. The front nine you get out and ease into the golf course and you’re like ‘I can make birdies out here’ and then you get to number 10 and you’re like ‘uh oh.’ The back nine is just relentless. It’s a lot of fun though.

NEPGA: Any additional thoughts about the PGA Professional National Championship?
LF: I’m just excited to be able to go play. I’m wishing all the best to all the other New England Professionals. I got to hang out with Chip Johnson a lot this winter, and he and I have really become good friends. I’m rooting for him for sure. He’s given me some advice on my game from his eyes and how he’s been such a successful player. I’m looking forward to playing well and hopefully a bunch of us make the PGA Championship.

David Bennett, General Manager/Director of Golf at Country Club of Vermont, was in the middle of the pack after an opening round 75 at the 2018 NEPGA Section Championship. But some solid golf over the final 36 holes propelled him into the top-10 and earned him a spot in his third PGA Professional Championship at the end of this month. Bennett fell short of making the cut in his two previous appearances, but his experience has taught him that simply playing some solid golf could be the ticket to his first PGA Championship start.

NEPGA: What do you remember about your previous appearances:
David Bennett: I remember it being a premiere event that was an absolute pleasure to attend. I did not make the cut in any of the previous ones. I certainly wasn’t playing a lot going into them. I guess I’ve never really truly prioritized these, but I’m optimistic that past experience can serve me well. It’s a premiere event for PGA Professionals across the country and obviously being lucky enough to go there and represent New England is fantastic. I couldn’t be more excited about it and hopefully those past experiences in some way serve me well.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the championship been affected by the long winter?
DB: My preparation has pretty much consisted of skiing this winter. It’s going to be interesting and challenging. I did get down to a member’s trip in March to play some golf for four days, other than that I haven’t touched a club since October. Hopefully I get some practice in over the next few weeks and then be able to get down on the 22nd, so about a week beforehand to get some practice in. I’m going to be significantly underprepared compared to years past. But that’s just the nature of being a full-time New England person, especially in Vermont. There’s just not an opportunity to play a lot of golf, and my job is year-round.

NEPGA: Was there a memorable moment from the Section Championship that helped get you reach the PGA Professional Championship?
DB: I really didn’t have a lot of expectations going into the New England Section Championship. I carried my own bag, I had my kids walking around during the championship and just went down there for some fun. I just played solid golf throughout. Like I said, I didn’t have a lot of expectations because I hadn’t played a lot going into the event. There wasn’t a moment where I pulled off some incredible shot to get in, I just steadily played better every day and as a result it was consistent play with the right attitude. Having my kids with me was a lot of fun.

NEPGA: After being there twice before, what advice would you give yourself going into this year’s championship?
DB: In years past you have this expectation that you have to play amazing golf to get through to the PGA Championship. If you look at scores in the past, somewhere around even-par over four days is good enough to get in most of the time. It’s coming in with the expectation that you have to play solid, consistent golf, but you don’t have to play incredible golf. Obviously, you have to play well. I think I put too much pressure on myself the last couple times. This time I’m going to go in with a care-free, fun attitude and just enjoy the experience. I’ll have my family with me once again and if I play consistently over four days and don’t do anything outrageously great or outrageously poor, I think you have a chance to get through to the next level.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
DB: I know nothing about it from experience. I’ve looked at the website a little bit and checked it out. I played my college golf in North Florida, so I’m kind of familiar with the southern golf, Bermuda grasses. I don’t know exactly what the grass is going to be down there, if they overseed or not. I’ve spent time in Hilton Head but I have not played Belfair specifically. I kind of know what to expect from an overall look and feel perspective, and I’m hopeful that will help me in the championship.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional National Championship?
DB: Overall, my attitude is really my strength. I played golf at a high level in college, I played golf at a high amateur level, I played some professionally, obviously that was a long time ago. I’ve always drawn on the feelings that I get on the golf course in competition and be able to handle those emotions. For me, it’s the experience, the mental side. And, I fancy myself a pretty good putter. Around the greens is really my strength, and if I can keep the ball in play off the tee, I think I’ll be okay.

NEPGA: Do you have any memories or experiences from Bethpage?
DB: I do not. I’ve never played Bethpage. Obviously, it would be a dream come true to get through to that PGA Championship. That would be an absolutely amazing experience. What I’m most excited about for this year and maybe the next 5-10 years is that my kids are at the age where they would see me playing in something like the PGA Championship as really cool and be able to realize the enormity of that. For me, that’s my goal either this year or in the next five years, have a good chance of getting there and be able to show my kids that dad can still play some golf.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
DB: The goal is to make it to the PGA Championship, but to do that you’ve got to break it down and figure out how to get there. For me it’s going to be getting down there a week or so prior and figuring out a shot-shape that I can rely on off the tee and then keeping a good attitude throughout and realizing that there’s going to be some bad holes and mistakes made because I’m so, most likely, rusty and haven’t played in competition in a long time. If the right attitude is there for four days, if I’m lucky enough to get through the cut, enjoy it. This isn’t what I do full-time. I’m a General Manager and Director of Golf at a golf course. That’s my priority, that and my family. Golf at this point is just a luxury.

NEPGA: Any additional thoughts?
DB: What’s been really cool for me is the amount of member support I’ve received from my club. The members are really into supporting me and getting me down there. They’re really excited to watch it. I think it’s really neat and it adds to our job credibility and it’s a really neat thing for the entire club and the membership. I feel myself as a representative not only of myself, but the Country Club of Vermont and I’ll do my best to represent it in the best way.

There’s a lot of guys who come who are very serious players still. They’re playing a majority of their time in different events and they’re playing in the offseason. Call it 75 or 80 percent of their job. This for me is about 5-10 percent of my job, max. I come at it with a little bit of a disadvantage there, but I think I represent the true sense of a PGA Professional in that we have a lot of duties and we have a lot of things to do, and playing golf is part of it, and I’m proud that I can still play at that level. I’m proud that I’m able to hold down a full-time, 50-hour per week job and at the same time play at a level that gets me to these type of events.

A three-putt on the 53rd hole of the 2018 NEPGA Section Championship nearly cost Troy Pare, PGA (Ledgemont CC) a spot in the upcoming PGA Professional Championship. But in the end, Pare qualified on the number and will attempt to reach the PGA Championship for the second time later this month. Pare played in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straights where he finished +3, missing the cut by just two strokes. No stranger to the PGA Professional Championship, Pare is approaching his 10th trip to the national tournament.

NEPGA: Including 2019, how many PGA Professional Championship appearances have you made?
Troy Pare: I’ve never really counted. This is probably seven or eight.

NEPGA: Given the change in the schedule for 2019, how has your preparation for the Professional Championship been affected by the long winter?
TP: The reality is we’re going to play a little less golf going in. I don’t practice that much anyway, I don’t care to. If I have time, I’m going to play nine holes. It just means I’m going to have less of a chance to play nine-hole golf. At the same time, there’s not a whole lot of preparation that lot of us can do just from a staffing perspective. I don’t have a lot of prep time for the PNC. Being in April, to me it’s six in one, half dozen in the other because I don’t have a lot of prep time anyway.

NEPGA: Describe your most memorable shot/moment that helped get you into the Professional Championship field.
TP: Honestly I thought I shot myself in the foot on the 53rd hole of the tournament. I played very conservatively and hit the green in two and had 25 feet for birdie, and I ended up three-putting. I thought I tossed my chances out the window. I made a par on the last hole and I thought I missed (qualifying for the PNC). When it was all said and done, I ended up making it on the number. All you can try to do is turn those lousy rounds into something that’s halfway decent. The first day at Warwick was incredibly hard. It was breezy, the greens were firm, fast, and the place was tough. The biggest thing for me was just getting through Round 1 on the most difficult golf course.

NEPGA: What has your experience been like at your previous PNC appearances?
TP: I’ve only made it through (to the PGA Championship) once, that was in 2010. I finished fifth in the tournament and made it to the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights. Being there at least once, at the Major and knowing that I can compete with those guys – I finished +3 for the tournament at the PGA and missed the cut by two – but just knowing that I can compete out there, I want to get back again. I want to at least make the cut and see where it goes.

NEPGA: What can you take from your previous experiences at the PNC that can help you heading into it this year?
TP: A lot of guys are going to get off to a good start, that’s just the way it is. There are a lot of really great players in the field, and you’re going to see some guys shoot five or six under par in the first round. Historically, what it shows you, is that whatever the number is after Round 1, that is almost inevitably what the winning score of the tournament is. Knowing that, you know you don’t have to chase it. If you go out there and shoot one-over, or one-under, or whatever the case may be, and somebody shoots seven under par, you’re not out of the tournament. There’s a long way to go. If you can average one-under per side, at the end of the tournament you know you can win. If you go out there and start slow and you shoot one-under and some guy shoots eight under, it’s okay. That number doesn’t change at all. Historically you know that every single year, even-par has made the PGA Championship. We all want to win the tournament, but as an end-goal, we want to make the PGA Championship. If you know the number is even par for four rounds – every single year that I’ve looked at the data it’s gotten in – you realize it’s a marathon. It’s a long process. In 72 holes a lot of stuff can happen, a lot of bad stuff can happen.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair?
TP: Honestly, nothing. I was hoping to get down there in March but work kind of got in the way. That’s kept me incredibly busy. But one of the guys I’m staying with was looking at joining this club, Highland Country Club, last year and he ended up moving to Belfair, and now he lives at Belfair and he’s a really good player. He played golf in Massachusetts, he’s caddied a lot for Frank Vana over the years, so he knows what he’s doing and he’s going to be my caddie in the tournament. I’ll rely a lot on him. I’ll have a chance to play each golf course twice prior to the event. In the grand scheme of things it’s not a lot of rounds of golf, but it’s enough to get through.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional National Championship?
TP: First and foremost, most guys that know me know me for my putting. That’s a strength of my game. Even when you’re playing poorly, you can get the saving grace with the flat-stick, that’s number one. Number two is my bunker game. I love the bunkers. When you get on a par-5 and you try to go for the green in two and you get in the bunker, great. Over the years what’s lacking, between age and injuries, I don’t hit it as far as I used to. I have to meander my way around the golf course a little differently nowadays. I used to make fun of people who had multiple head covers in their golf bag. Well, I’m that guy now. I got a lot of headcovers in my bag.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
TP: At the end of the day, I just firmly believe that the people coming out of the South have a distinct advantage this year, just because of the fact that their seasons are slowing down in April and they generally have bigger staffs than we do and they have a chance to play and practice a lot more than we do. We all want to win it. If I happen to catch lightning in a bottle and have a chance to win, fantastic. If I don’t, my end goal is to always try to make the PGA Championship.

NEPGA: Any additional thoughts?
TP: It’s time away. People don’t talk about that. How do you deal with the time away from your family? I’ve got a wife and kids. How do you deal with time away from the club, and how do the members feel about it? How does the owner feel about it? You’ve gotta have somebody covering your butt when you’re gone.

Like many of us, Jeff Martin, PGA, spent the winter sitting on his couch watching Netflix. But unlike most of us, Martin is just a few weeks away from attempting to qualify for the PGA Championship for the fourth time. Martin finished -6, one stroke behind champion Rich Berberian, in the 2018 NEPGA Section Championship to secure a spot in the PGA Professional Championship for the 15th consecutive year. The Head Professional at Wollaston Golf Club (Norton, Mass.), Martin qualified for the PGA Championship in 2005, ‘08, and ’13.

NEPGA: Given the move to April for 2019, how has your preparation for the Professional Championship been affected by the long winter?
Jeff Martin: My preparation has been non-existent.  If you call sitting on your couch watching Netfix preparing for our biggest tournament of the year, then yes, I’ve been preparing!  When the PGA of America moved the Professional Championship to the end of April, they put almost everyone in the Northern states at a disadvantage.  Needless to say, it’s going to be a challenge!  So, for me its going to be like cramming for a test. I will practice as much as I can in the next three weeks to try and get my game to where it needs to be and try to figure the rest out when I get to South Carolina.

NEPGA: Describe your most memorable shot from the Section Championship that helped get you into the field in South Carolina.
JM: I’d have to say number 6 at Quidnessett during the final round.  I hit a perfect pitching wedge from 128 yards and luckily enough it went in.  Definitely not the 5 iron I tried to hit on number 16!

NEPGA: What’s the best advice anyone has given you heading into this tournament?
JM: Go slow!  Everything moves so fast when you play at the next level.  Walk slow, eat slow and breathe slow.  And don’t change equipment!!  I see a lot of guys tinkering with their gear right before this event just because the tour vans are there.  Stick with the ones that got you there!

NEPGA: Have you ever played Belfair?
JM: I have not.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
JM: I really don’t know much about it. I saw it’s a fairly long golf course, which doesn’t bother me.  We’ll have to see about the rest when I get there.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional Championship?
JM: I believe my driver is one of my biggest strengths.  I’ve always considered it to be a weapon for me.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
JM: Winning is always the ultimate goal but there are other things to be thinking about as well.  A top-20 finish will get you a spot in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black and a top-5 finish will secure a spot on the 2019 PGA Cup Team. These will definitely be on my mind as I head to the Professional Championship in a few weeks.

Bob Bruso, PGA, First Assistant Professional at Blackstone National Golf Club (Sutton, Mass.) is set to make his third appearance in the PGA Professional National Championship in Bluffton, S.C., at the end of the month. Bruso will join 311 other PGA Professionals from around the country at Belfair West & East Courses to battle for one of 20 spots in the upcoming PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. He finished tied for ninth at the 2018 NEPGA Section Championship to advance to the PNC, using an improbable birdie at the Section Championship to clinch a spot the field.

NEPGA: How has the Professional National Championship move to April affected your preparation?
BRUSO: I’ve been down to Florida 3 or 4 times to play in winter series events. I’ve also been hitting balls indoors at Blackstone.

NEPGA: Describe your most memorable shot from the NEPGA Section Championship that helped get you into the field in South Carolina.
BB: I holed out on 18 for birdie after a penalty drop at Warwick. If it wasn’t for that shot there’s no way I would of made it.

NEPGA: What’s the best advice anyone has given you heading into this tournament?
BB: Have fun, focus on being mentally ready and confident.

NEPGA: What do you know about Belfair and how it will suit your game?
BB: I’ve never played it. I’ve heard it’s not a long course. I can take advantage of my length and steady driving.

NEPGA: What part of your game will be your biggest strength in the Professional National Championship?
BB: Keeping the ball in play and staying patient.

NEPGA: What are your goals at the Championship?
BB: Qualify for the PGA Championship.