Team of 20 at 2020 PGA Championship
Credit: Darren Carroll/PGA of America/PGA

They left their hearts and a bunch of swing thoughts in San Francisco.

The PGA Team of 20 arrived at TPC Harding Park for the 2020 PGA Championship by an unconventional route -- a 2019 PGA Professional Player of the Year points list and not a PGA Professional Championship. A pandemic will do that by playing havoc with tradition. 

Nevertheless, once on site, the PGA Professionals focused on competing in the season’s first major championship.   

Reigning PGA Professional Champion Alex Beach of Rye, New York, capped his third PGA Championship appearance with a 1-over-par 71. That led the 20-member contingent with a 36-hole total of 4-over-par 144, three strokes above the Championship cut for the low 70 scorers and ties.

“I played pretty well and gave myself a chance early,” said Beach, a PGA Teaching Professional at Westchester Country Club who has conditional playing status on the Korn Ferry Tour. “After yesterday, I was happy to be in condition to make a cut. I don't think I have driven the ball worse than I drove it the past two days. That was something I rely upon, so I had to grind it out. All in all, it was a good week, but it fell short of what I was hoping to do.”

The week was extra special for Alex Knoll, making his major debut and didn’t have him belaboring struggles with rounds of 77 and 80. The week carried more than what you can mark on a scorecard. 

“Everything I experienced I thought exactly what it would be and it was better than that,” said Knoll, 35, a PGA Assistant Professional at Glen Brook Golf Club in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania and a full-time algebra and calculus instructor at Palmerton Area High School.

“The Tour guys were incredible to be around and the PGA staff was so welcoming. You felt like you were one of the past Champions. 

“I felt as prepared as I ever could have been for this tournament,” he said. “You just can’t prepare for the nerves, your emotions and how that affects your golf swing. That’s why these guys are the best in the world, because they can do that under the most immense amount of pressure. I learned a lot about that the past two days.” 

Like calculus, the mathematical study of continuous change, Knoll also finds pursuing golf an ever-changing passion. “It is how you think through a problem and  how your mechanics work under the gun,” he said. “I think that is what I do well with both.

Heading home, said Knoll, will be a chance “to share with our community what joy I had this week because there are so many non-joyful things going on in the world.”  

In reviewing the PGA Team of 20 quest to make the cut, Friday began as a day of promise for the threesome of Benny Cook of Caledonia Michigan, Rob Labritz of Pound Ridge, New York, and Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio. They each posted a 71 Thursday, but saw their chances fade early. 

Sowards, the 52-year-old PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio, made his 11th appearance in the Championship. He struggled home with a 75. The culprit was one of his most reliable pieces of equipment.  

“It was one club, my driver. I don’t know if I’ve ever hit the driver that bad,” said Sowards, the reigning Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year. “I hit maybe two fairways. If you keep hitting it off line, you’re eventually going to get into trouble. I was managing it and was even through eight, then it hit right into the tree on No. 9 and list a ball. I made a triple and that derailed me. I had to be the worst driver of the golf ball in the world today.”  

Labritz, the Low Club Professional in the 2010 and 2019 PGA Championship, struggled hitting his irons.

 “It just didn’t jell for me today,” said the PGA Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York. “It was one of those days where not a lot went right and I didn’t hit it that bad.”   

Labritz, 49, had a couple special takeaways, and a special mission in mind. 

“I learned that lengthwise, I’m still there, if not better,” he said. “I am a good ball striker. I got a lot of compliments from the Tour players and I can't wait to be on the PGA Tour Champions. This won’t be my last PGA Championship and I want to keep playing in PGA Professional Championships as long as I can.” 

While a 75 derailed Cook’s spending the weekend in San Francisco, the 26-year-old PGA Director of Instruction at Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, Michigan, has another “major” in sight.

He will be getting married to Miah Hagy on Aug. 15, in an outdoor ceremony near Lansing, Michigan.

Cook had the best view of what it takes to grab hold of a Championship. His playing partner was China’s Haotong Li, who posted a 65 to grab the Championship lead.   

“It was tough for me today, not so much for Haotong Li,” said Cook. “I couldn’t believe how he got some of the lies he did in the rough. He hit it really good out of the rough and I was super impressed. 

“When you miss fairways, it’s hard to come back. And I was missing greens on the short side of the hole, where it’s tough to get up and down. All in all, a super experience. I played great yesterday, and played OK today.”  

Jeff Roth, the PGA Teaching Professional at Boyne Golf Academy in Harbor Springs, Michigan, was the oldest player in the field at age 62 and made his sixth PGA Championship out of 20 career major appearances - as a junior or senior.

“It was a big thrill. I had a terrific week,” said Roth, who had rounds of 74 and 75. “I stumbled at times; I shined at times. I knew it would need to be a perfect two rounds of golf to make the cut. I had my opportunities, but it was a terrific week.

Roth said playing before no spectators was “in some ways more enjoyable.”

“I could focus just on the golf versus getting caught up with the emotions of the fans,” he said. “It was like being in Pinehurst, it was all golf.

“This is a beautiful piece of property, a great, great golf course. And, for sure, it has the best greens I’ve ever played on in any of my 20 majors. That’s why these guys are making so many putts. The greens are perfect.”

Tracking the PGA Team of 20 in the 2020 PGA Championship

Alex Beach, Rye, New York 73-71--144

Bob Sowards, Dublin, Ohio 71-75--146

Benny Cook, Caledonia, Michigan 71-75--146

David Muttitt, Albuquerque, New Mexico 72-75--147

Rob Labritz, Pound Ridge, New York 71-76--147

Jason Caron, Oyster Bay, New York 76-72--148

John O’Leary, Sterling, Virginia 75-73--148

Mike Auterson, Milford, Ohio 75-74--149

J.R. Roth, Farmington, New Mexico 74-75--149

Rich Berberian Jr., Hooksett, New Hampshire 76-74--150

Marty Jertson, Phoenix, Arizona 74-76--150

Ryan Vermeer, Omaha, Nebraska 79-71--150

Danny Balin, Great Neck, New York 74-76--150

Shawn Warren, Portland, Maine 78-73--151

Justin Bertsch, Naples, Florida 78-75--153

Jeff Hart, Solana Beach, California 77-77--154

Rod Perry, Port Orange, Florida 75-81--156

Alex Knoll, Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania 77-80--157

Zach J. Johnson, Farmington, Utah 82-79--161

Judd Gibb, Fort Dodge, Iowa 77-84--161

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