PGA Professional Champions recall their finest hours
This story originally appeared in the April issue of PGA Magazine
If you asked each of the 312 PGA Members competing in the 2021 PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and Rolex what makes the Championship so special, you’ll no doubt get many different answers. But all would agree that it is the showcase – the major championship – each year for PGA Professionals.
The PGA Professional Championship began in 1968 at Century and Roadrunner Country Clubs in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was won by New Jersey’s Howell Fraser. During the past 50-plus years, an impressive list of PGA Professionals have inscribed their names on the Walter Hagen Cup. PGA Magazine asked several PGA Professional Champions to share their favorite Championship memories. Here are their perspectives:
RICH BERBERIAN JR.
2016 PGA Professional Champion
Turning Stone Resort, Verona, New York
“To be honest, my fondest memory is the 33-foot uphill right-to-left birdie putt I made on the 18th green to win (in 2016) at Turning Stone. If that putt doesn’t go in, who knows what happens in a playoff? I’ve seen a lot of video replays of that putt, and it gets longer every time I watch it. That putt meant a heckuva lot more than just winning a major tournament. It was great for my confidence and it helped me win the whole year. It validated all the hard work I had put in and paved the way for being named the 2016 PGA Professional Player of the Year.
“Winning will always be my favorite part of it, but getting to see the past champions at the dinner each year and see all the guys from different Sections is a highlight.
“The PPC is a unique tournament. You have to beat 311 other PGA Professionals, it’s televised everywhere in the world, most of the equipment reps are there, and you’re playing in a tour atmosphere. It is, without a doubt, our major for club professionals, and it is an honor to be a former champion. It provides PGA Professionals with a chance to live our dreams, whether we win or just get to compete.”
—Rich Berberian Jr., PGA Director of Instruction, Vesper Country Club, Hooksett, New Hampshire
2019 PGA Professional Champion
Belfair, Bluffton, South Carolina
“Winning in 2019 certainly changed my life in a positive way. It has allowed me to continue pursuing playing professional golf and achieving my dream of playing full-time on tour. It has given me the confidence in my abilities to push myself to another level. I used winning the PPC to advance through Korn Ferry Q-School and I will be competing on that tour in between other starts, as well.
“The week after Korn Ferry Q-School, I played the Assistant PGA Professional Championship and won (on the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club), becoming the first PGA Professional to win multiple national championships in one year. For me, it is all a product of the hard work I’ve put in and the process I’ve had to learn over the years on how to win.
“One of my favorite memories after winning the PPC was the incredible outpouring of support from everyone. I had over 1,000 texts, calls, social media posts, etc. It literally took me four days to get back to everyone, and I did get back to everyone. Westchester even hosted a party in my honor when I returned and over 100 members showed up.”
—Alex Beach, PGA Assistant Professional, Westchester Country Club, Rye, New York
2014 PGA Professional Champion
Dunes Golf & Beach Club & Grande Dunes Resort Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Being able to share that moment in 2014 with my family by having them run onto the 18th green after I had won will be etched in my head for the rest of my life. Then you have the awards ceremony where you are presented with the Walter Hagen Cup — that was pretty cool, too, and something I will always remember. Years later, it still sends chills up my spine when I am introduced on the first tee as the 2014 PGA Professional Champion.
“We all take great pride in being members of such a great Association, and to be the individual who is crowned the national champion is something you will never understand unless you win it. You didn’t just win your Chapter or Section championship — you just won the national championship against the best 312 players from across the entire country.
“The PPC has some great traditions, and I look forward to the Champions Dinner every year. Without a doubt in my mind, the TV coverage really brings in the element of a major championship. Being able to watch the broadcast after each round back at the house is pretty cool.”
—Michael Block, PGA Head Professional, Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, Mission Viejo, California
2004 PGA Professional Champion
Longaberger Golf Club, Nashport, Ohio
“I have hundreds of memories from the PGA Professional Championship, but my greatest highlight
s definitely 2004 — and not because I won in my home state of Ohio. It’s because that is the last time my Dad, Chuck Sowards, got to watch me play in a tournament. He passed away later that year. I still think about him every time I play the PPC and every time I get in contention in a tournament.
“Those of us who have played in the PPC for as long as I have (some 20 years) recognize how great it is. It is our major championship each year, because you are playing against the best of your peers and all of us only get together this one time per year to compete against each other. The PPC is so difficult to win because it’s 312 of the best club professionals in the nation competing and you have only one week for your game to be peaking, which is very difficult to do.
“The PPC has grown in stature and importance over the years and is treated just like a tour event, which is great for club professionals to be able to experience. From the winner’s check to the course we play, to the national television audience, everything is first class.”
—Bob Sowards, PGA Director of Instruction, Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club, Dublin, Ohio
2013 PGA Professional Champion
Crosswater Club, Sunriver, Oregon
“My memories of 2013 mostly involve my family being there on the 18th green as I finished. Having my wife, Jaclyn, and our two kids, Vanessa and Carson, there was the absolute highlight of my playing career. It wouldn’t have been complete without them there. My Dad had just retired and was on a cross-country RV adventure with my stepmom Roxanne, so having them there was a huge bonus. Here was the guy who had supported me through junior golf, high school, college and the mini-tours to a big extent, in person to see me win my first big event.
“Over the past few years, the PGA Professional Championship has been very good to me. I do everything I can to make sure I’m playing my absolute best golf in preparation for the PPC, which is our major championship. That’s not to say that no other events matter. It’s just with my lifestyle and demands of the job, it’s difficult to be on top of my game 52 weeks a year.
“I look at this Championship as an opportunity to qualify for the PGA Championship and represent my family, my friends, my members at Crane Lakes and my employers.”
—Rod Perry, PGA Head Professional, Crane Lakes Golf & Country Club, Port Orange, Florida
2005 PGA Professional Champion,
The Ocean Course,
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
2009 PGA Professional Champion,
Twin Warriors & Santa Ana Golf Clubs,
Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico
2010 PGA Professional Champion
The Pete Dye & Donald Ross Courses,
French Lick, Indiana
“The PPC is the biggest and most prestigious event that PGA Professionals have, and it’s widely considered to be the ultimate tournament to win as a PGA Professional. I have many great memories over the years, and all three of my wins have different meanings to me.
“The first win, however, was the most special. To win at a course like Kiawah and to play solid golf in such tough conditions that entire week really gave me the confidence to believe in myself, and that belief played a major factor in me being able to win the Championship two more times on great golf courses.
“The PPC is a major championship in every way, from the national television broadcast to the way the golf courses are set up by the PGA of America. Winning another one would mean the world to me. However, just playing in another one would mean a lot, too!”
—Mike Small, PGA Head Men’s Golf Coach, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois
2012 PGA Professional Champion
Bayonet Black Horse, Seaside, California
2015 PGA Professional Champion
The Philadelphia Cricket Club,
“Winning the PPC has been special in so many ways, but I think being able to share the excitement
of the event with my family and club members stands out the most. The memory of my daughter, Kaitlyn, running to hug me just after winning in 2015 while Laurie held our newborn son is a memory I hang onto very tightly in my mind. Family is everything and to have them there (in 2015) is something I’ll never forget.
“The PGA Professional Championship is very difficult to win. You have to beat what is essentially two full tournament fields due to having 312 players competing. It’s also hard to ignore all of the great perks that come along with playing well, such as the PGA Championship and PGA Cup.
“Winning a third title would mean a great deal to me. I’m not getting any younger and the young players are getting better faster every year, so I may not have that many realistic chances to win again. If I was able to walk away with the trophy one more time, I would be absolutely thrilled.”
—Matt Dobyns, PGA Head Professional, Meadow Brook Club, Glen Head, New York