John’s Island PGA professionals Give Florida Club a Triple Dose of Thrills
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – There is pride that extends far beyond the Team of 20 club professionals who compete each year at the PGA Championship. Consider it a ripple effect of sorts.
For those who serve clubs and members either in the shop or on the range, their presence in the field competing next to the world’s greatest players provides the members where they work a sense of ownership in the tournament.
So, imagine the force multiplier involved when a single club sends three PGA professionals to the PGA Championship. This is what John’s Island Golf Club (Vero Beach, Fla.) is doing this week, and the three courses there may be quiet in the coming days because many will be viewing the PGA. Tyler Collet, Ben Cook and Brett Walker, all in their 20s and promising players, are at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course to compete this week having worked this winter at John’s Island, which has three strong layouts. Their boss, John’s Island Director of Golf Steve Hudson, has been at Kiawah, too, enjoying the lofty accomplishments of his young assistants.
The membership at John’s Island – roughly 1,400 strong – have been incredibly supportive, even establishing a fund not only to help with expenses this week, but with tournament expenses for these pros and others to play in future events, be it a PGA Tour start or the Florida Open. More than 500 members have donated, raising a substantial amount of money to help defray costs for things such as tournament entries as well as education and development fees.
“This is historic,” said John’s Island member Mark Mulvoy, a former Sports Illustrated editor who was instrumental in the fundraising. “Never before has one club had three assistants play
in the PGA. We have a greatly involved membership here, and they love this stuff.”
Hudson and the others were able to express their gratitude Tuesday evening, when all four participated in a live YouTube feed with members titled “JI goes to the PGA Championship.” By
the end of the call, nearly 300 John’s Island members were viewing online, and they’ll be updated daily on scores and developments.
“I’m happy that they’re here (Cook and Walker) and I have somebody to share this with,” said Collet, 25, who tied for eighth at the recent PGA Professional Championship in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “The membership is pretty excited. We’re pretty much putting JI on the map.
“The Mid-Am (2015 U.S. Mid-Amateur) was great for the club, but we’ve been getting a lot of publicity, so I think that this is bigger for the club, and for my boss, Steve Hudson, in his recruiting. Come here, and you may end up at the PGA Championship. I mean, three guys here at the PGA … that’s pretty cool.”
Cook and Collet tuned up together with rounds on Monday and Tuesday, and all three have enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere.
Collet spent time after his Tuesday round along the fence near the practice green, signing autographs on PGA flags for young fans. He had played the back nine with Tour pro Richy Werenski. Cook, 27, spends his summers as PGA Director of Instruction at Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, Mich. He finished third at the PPC and will be making an appearance in the PGA for a third consecutive year. He enjoys the fact that crowds are back at the event, having played in front of tens of thousands at Bethpage Black two summers ago. Cook played in a great group on Tuesday, joining Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker and Jason Dufner.
His advice for his fellow club pros as they make their PGA debuts: “Just soak it in,” he said. “This is maybe a ‘once-a-year’ for us. Take it in. Have fun with it.”
Walker splits his time between John’s Island and Sunningbrook Golf Club in Plymouth Meeting, Penn. He joined Collet in tying for eighth at the PPC. On a tough and windswept final day at PGA Golf Club, Walker climbed 26 spots with a 2-under 70 that earned him his first PGA start at Kiawah’s Ocean Course. He is 29 and possesses plenty of talent.
“I played with him on Monday and told him the fans here will have a hard time trying to figure out if he’s a club pro or a Tour pro,” Lanto Griffin, a PGA Tour winner, said of Walker, a long hitter who won the 2021 PGA Stroke Play Championship. Walker acknowledges that the Ocean Course will be a difficult test, but none of the three John’s Island pros will shy from the challenge.
“At the end of the day,” Walker said, “it’s still a golf ball, and still just a golf shot.”
He played alongside Texas PGA Tour pros Scottie Scheffler and Ryan Palmer on Tuesday. He was asked the difference between their games and his.
“Not to be brash, but I don’t think there’s a difference,” Walker said. “It comes down to whether you believe in your own game. I think any of the three of us could win the tournament, honestly.”
Making the 36-hole cut on a course deemed one of the toughest in all of championship golf would seem a successful week, but these three don’t stop there. Collet, who said he works 60-plus hours a week in-season and has little time to practice, has set a few “mini-goals” this week – low club pro, no three-putts, no double bogeys – but also said his competitive mindset is that he is here to win. Period.
“The difference is these guys (Tour pros) do it for a living and they grind eight hours a day on their games,” Collet said. “We spend eight hours working. We service membership, and they service their games.”
Three assistant pros, one club, at the PGA Championship.
One word: Historic.