Playing in last week's PGA Championship as a working stiff, a
club pro among world-class Tour players, reminded me of when the
National Hockey League players went on strike in 1994. Some of
the New Jersey Devils were working out at a local ice rink and
invited this middle-aged golf pro to skate with them. It didn't
take long for me to realize that I was way out of my league.
That's how I felt at Winged Foot.
Even though this was my third straight PGA and I knew what to
expect, I couldn't play out of the ankle-deep rough to save my
life. You can't prepare for it. You just gouge away. I felt like
George of the Jungle.
We club pros rarely face conditions like the setup at Winged
Foot, which probably explains why, once again, none of us made
the cut. Of course, it's not easy playing the last three holes
in the dark, either, which was what I did in the second round.
Our group went off next to last--not that we belong anywhere
else--but it's tougher to make the cut with a late tee time.
Night-vision goggles would've helped.
We also had to worry about our real jobs. My club, Mountain
Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., has roughly 500
members and had a member-member tournament last Friday morning
and the club championship on the weekend, so I spent 45 minutes
on the phone before my round on Friday making sure our course
was marked and everything was ready. Greg Norman doesn't have
Still, the week was a lot of fun. I played a practice round with
John Daly and Fuzzy Zoeller. It was hard to concentrate because
Fuzzy was cracking jokes on every shot and I was laughing the
whole time. I'm glad Fuzz wasn't on the 4th hole on Thursday
when my tee shot hit a tree and bounced so far left that I had
to thread a seven-iron between two trees and play up the 5th
fairway. I wound up sinking a 10-foot putt for a great 6, if
there is such a thing. I was only one over through 12 holes, but
still shot a 77. On Friday I started with a double bogey, then
three-putted the 2nd and thought, Gee, I could shoot 90.
Fortunately, I got it together in time to finish with a 75 for a
152--better than Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo and Curtis Strange.
Playing in the PGA is something I'll remember the rest of my
life, even though at the end I felt as tired and beat up as the
day I played hockey with the Devils. I know the club pros didn't
fare too well, but don't let anyone tell you that we don't
belong. This is our championship, after all, and we should be
represented. I know I'll be trying to make it again next year.
Meanwhile, I think I'll sharpen my skates.
Mike Burke Jr., 40, has played in nine major championships.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Burke, like all his peers, missed the cut. [Mike Burke Jr.]