Club pros ‘living on a prayer’ in PGA Championship

Club pros ‘living on a prayer’ in PGA Championship

A PRO'S LIFE: Rob Corcoran hits out of the bunker on the fifth hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Tuesday, Aug. 5, in Louisville, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on Thursday. Photo: Associated Press/John Locher

JIM LITKE, AP Sports Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Golf could do itself a favor this week by fussing less over Tiger Woods and more over Rob Corcoran.

Corcoran is a 38-year-old club pro whose story is only too familiar to the 19 other members of his fraternity who earned a spot alongside the tour pros in this year’s PGA Championship field. Any one of them will be lucky to stick around until Sunday. Nearly all of them were sure they’d get here one day — just a lot sooner.

Instead they wound up giving lessons, selling clubs and clothes in the pro shop and looking after everything required to run a golf club, from the food in the kitchen to the balls on the range. In the time left over, they work on their own games and play mini-tour events, in search of small victories or to gauge their slimmer-by-the-day prospects of moving up to the big time.

Corcoran did — and still does — all of those things five months out of the year. Where his story veers off from the rest of the club-pro pack is where he does it: at the Poxabogue Golf Center, a nine-hole public course that sits alongside the Montauk Highway on Long Island, New York, and in the shadow of three of the best and most exclusive private clubs in America.

If the folks who run golf are serious about growing the game, about making it fun and accessible for beginners, and keeping them involved, Poxabogue might just be ground zero.

“We’ve got a driving range, six par-3s and three par 4s; one goes straight, one doglegs left, and the other is a dogleg right. A lot of the lessons I give,” Corcoran said, smiling, “usually include me having to explain what a dogleg is.”

That’s not the case at nearby Shinnecock Hills, the National Golf Links or Maidstone, though at least a few of Corcoran’s students — rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his son, Jake, as well as Fox news anchor Bill Hemmer — bring some star power to the links.

On the other hand, Poxabogue costs $28 for the first nine holes and $11 for a replay. It measures about 1,600 yards and even though there are no motorized carts, golfers regularly get around in less than 90 minutes. Don’t even ask about the dress code.

“People call because they’re coming from the beach,” Corcoran said. “I tell them, ‘As long as you’re wearing clothes, it’s OK. Tank tops, swimsuits, flip-flops … but the only item you really need is a hard hat. You hear ‘Fore!’ there a lot.”

Corcoran warmed up on the practice range next to Adam Scott and almost pinched himself. He played a practice round Tuesday with Jim Furyk, in large part because his caddy and close pal, Rob Sullivan, played at UCLA and crossed paths with Furyk when he was at Arizona.

“You know the joke, ‘If you want to play golf for a living, don’t be a golf pro?'” Furyk laughed. “Well, it’s true partly because these guys have to wear so many different hats. Some guys have the talent, some guys get tired of the gypsy lifestyle — the reasons they don’t make it out here runs the gamut.”

Corcoran isn’t sure which category he falls into, only that roughly 10 years ago — after trying his luck in South America, Canada and “just about every mini-tour in America” — he realized his best chance to stay in the game was as a teacher. Now in his fourth season at Poxabogue, he spends the winters in Florida giving the occasional lesson and working on his own game, still trying to catch lightning in a bottle.

Earlier this year, he had reason to believe he was close. When Poxabogue golf director Steven Lee asked Corcoran for a list of tournaments he’d be playing to map out a schedule, it included “Aug. 4-10, PGA Championship at Valhalla.”

“I’m not sure my boss thought it was possible,” he recalled. “I said, ‘This IS my schedule.'”

A tie for 12th in National Club Pro Championship at Myrtle Beach officially guaranteed his spot in the PGA field. But to get to the finals of that event, Corcoran had to follow up an opening-round 73 with a 61 in sectional qualifying to advance. Between those rounds, he called his father, Bob, to tell him all those months in Florida were about to pay off.

On Tuesday, Bob and Mary Corcoran arrived, in time to follow him preparing to tackle Valhalla. As he stepped off the ninth green, Corcoran scanned the crowd for his folks.

“I just hope,” he said, “they’re not off somewhere trying to get autographs.”

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