What’s better than playing in a major championship?
Rob Labritz and Brian Gaffney are back in the PGA Championship and will be competing at the highest level of the game later this month in their proverbial backyard at Baltusrol Golf Club. They earned the invite on Wednesday at Turning Stone Resort Casino with top-20 finishes at the PGA Professional Championship.
Now it’s only a short drive to Springfield, New Jersey
“I think it’s going to be really exciting,” said Gaffney, who is the head professional at Quaker Ridge Golf Club and grew up some three miles from Baltusrol in Westfield. “It will be fun in that it will bring a lot of people together, friends and family. It will be difficult to put all the pieces together, managing time and energy and expectations.”
Labritz has a habit of getting caught up in late drama at the PPC. He survived a playoff in 2013, holing out for birdie from 95 yards away to get into the field at Oak Hill. The 45-year-old director of golf at GlenArbor had to get up and down for par on the 17th hole of the Atunyote course on Wednesday, then rolled in a 35-foot birdie on the final hole to avoid another playoff.
He closed with a 72, finishing tied for 13th with a 2-under total of 286.
“It must be an adrenaline thing,” Labritz said. “There must be something in the back of my brain. Maybe it’s something I need to focus, but when you’re in the middle of the moment, it doesn’t feel dramatic. … The up and down on 17 was crazy. The whole time I was walking around the putt on 18, I was talking to myself in the most calm way, saying, ‘This is why you spend all those hours practicing.’ And then I willed the ball in the hole, I guess. I did everything right that I had to do right.
“This is so much fun.”
It will be the fifth PGA start for the resident of Pound Ridge, who was the low club pro at Whistling Straits in 2010.
Gaffney made six consecutive pars to post a final-round 73 and clinch a return trip with a 2-under total of 268.
The 45-year-old resident of Darien, Connecticut, was the low club professional last year at Whistling Straits and will also be making his fifth PGA Championship appearance.
“I was kind of riding the bubble the whole time, so that was an uneasy feeling,” said Gaffney, whose steady hand kept him inside the top 20 while other talented players failed to withstand the pressure. “I have been there a number of times before so I was able to rely on that experience.”
All told, five players from the Met PGA will be at Baltusrol, including Mark Brown from Tam O’Shanter, Matt Dobyns from Fresh Meadow and Ben Polland from Deepdale.
“It’s going to be great,” Labritz added. “This one is closer for the members at GlenArbor and my family. We didn’t have any wireless last night when we got home and there’s no cell service to speak of, so this morning my phone exploded with text messages, emails, Facebook notifications. Everyone was calling it a home game, so that will be awesome, having my own cheering section.”