Playing in a major championship is a unique experience. All of the usual sights and sounds are magnified. The stakes are significantly higher. A lasting legacy can be established in four days.
And still, there’s not even a hint of apprehension in the voice of Rob Labritz.
The 42-year-old director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford this week will play in his fourth PGA Championship, his second at Oak Hill in Pittsford, just outside Rochester. Even though so much is happening on and off the course right now, his pulse is remarkable steady.
“No worries,” Labritz said.
It’s the go-to refrain for the Pound Ridge resident, who was the low club pro at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Labritz is riding a wave of serendipity.
It began to swell in June when he calmly holed out for birdie from 95 yards away in a playoff at the national club pro championship to claim the last available spot in the season’s final major. Brian Crowell, the head golf professional at GlenArbor just happened to be moonlighting for the Golf Channel, and he got the first greenside interview after wiping a few tears away.
The swing even topped ESPN’s daily highlight reel, and brought more than 15 minutes of television fame. Some fans even recognize the name on his Titleist staff bag during practice rounds and have been quick to offer congratulations.
“It’s been really cool,” he said.
All of the logistical familiarity with the PGA Championship and Oak Hill is already helping Labritz this week, and it may help him survive the cut again.
“Totally,” he said. “I know that I can play here. I love the golf course. I know that I can make the cut. It’s extremely difficult, but if you drive the ball well, you’re going to play well, and I’m a good driver of the ball.”
Concentrating on golf is no easy task when distractions abound.
Labritz rented a private home near the course and was able to get family situated early in the week. He’s got friends and members from GlenArbor coming up to watch. And his wife, Kerry, is slightly more than eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child.
That prompted some contingency plans to be put in place before she drove up.
Labritz took notice when PGA Tour veteran Hunter Mahan withdrew from the Canadian Open after his wife went into labor. Mahan had a two-stroke lead when he took off for the hospital.
“We’ve talked about that already,” Labritz said. “Kerry told me I don’t get to play in as many tour events as Hunter. If there’s an emergency, her parents are there, and I’ll be there supporting after I get done with my round. Everything’s cool with that. We did talk with some doctors up there. My mom is going to be there, too, which is just incredible. She was battling lung cancer, and we found out a week ago that she’s cancer free. We’ve got a lot of good things going on in our lives right now.”
There will be plenty of people around for support on the course, too.
Crowell is going to be on the premises doing some work for CBS Sports Network, and Burning Tree Country Club assistant Danny Balin, a frequent playing partner, is making his fourth straight PGA Championship appearance.
Balin, a 31-year-old Maryland native, recently repeated as New York State Open champion and is looking to make his first cut in a major.
“Anytime you get to a major as a club pro, it’s a dream come true,” Balin said. “I’ve played the last couple of years, so I know how the week goes. Hopefully, I keep my nerves in check and play well. I want to obviously make the cut and compete to win, but hopefully, I don’t think about that, I just go out and play my game and maybe it’s good enough to play four rounds.”