HARTFORD, Conn. – Jason Caron has played on the PGA Tour and been one of the leading club professionals in the country for nearly a decade but attained his most significant honor this week.
Caron, a native of Hyannis, Mass., whose numerous victories include the 2012 Connecticut Open, was named the 2020 PGA Professional Player of the Year after the most unique circumstances caused by a global pandemic.
Caron, 48, the head pro at The Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, N.Y., started last year by winning a three-player playoff in the PGA Stroke Play Championship. He also notched two victories in the Metropolitan (N.Y.) PGA Section, the PGA Professional Championship in September, also in a playoff, and a wire-to-wire win in the Long Island Open in October. That led to Caron being named Metropolitan PGA Player of the Year.
Caron amassed 625 points in the national POY race, followed by Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla. (590.350), Scott Berliner of Lake Luzerne, N.Y. (565) and Ryan Vermeer of Omaha, Neb. (548.750), who earned the award the previous two years.
“I’ve been playing well for about two-and-a-half years now, but I feel like I really broke through in 2020,” said Caron, a member of the PGA Tour in 2000 and 2003 who tied for 30th in the 2002 U.S. Open. “To this award means a ton. Just to have this on my playing resume, it’s a special accomplishment. It’s an honor to represent my fellow 29,000 PGA professionals, the Met Section and Mill River, all who have encouraged me to play this game. My hats off to them.”
When Caron won the Stroke Play Championship in February, he looked forward to a competitive season in the Met Section. Then the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down and several tournaments in the metropolitan area were postponed or canceled, casting doubt about any championship golf being played.
“After I won the Stroke Play, you think in April we have the National Club Pro Championship and your full season in the Met Section kicks in May, June,” Caron told Jeff Williams of Newsday. “But when COVID hit, everything got pushed back, pushed back, pushed back.”
When tournament play finally started in late July, Caron won the two major Met Section events, finished second in the New York State Open and the Met PGA Head Pro Championship. All that after missing the cut at the PGA Championship in San Francisco in August.
Caron’s extraordinary season could be traced back to a conversation with his wife, West Hartford native Liz Janangelo Caron, who runs the ladies and junior programs at Mill River. Liz won the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur Championship a record five consecutive times, the Connecticut Women’s Open a record four times, including three in a row as an amateur, and nine American Junior Golf Association events, was AJGA Player of the Year in 2001, played on the victorious 2004 U.S. Curtis Cup team and was a four-time All-American and a NCAA Player of the Year as a sophomore at Duke, helped the Blue Devils win two national titles and was named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year twice. She played on the Futures (now Symetra) and LPGA Tours, winning twice on the developmental tour, and the Connecticut State Golf Association honored her in 2017 when it named the Women’s Player of the Year after her. She is shoo-in to be elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame when she turns 40 in 2023.
“We don’t talk about golf a lot because we have two little kids,” Jason said, “but we were discussing one night over dinner a couple years ago and told her I don’t know what’s going on, but the club seems like it’s behind me a little bit. She says I’ll take a peek at you. She walks by me on the range the next day and I’m slapping it around and she says put your hands over your toe line. OK, whatever that meant. Next thing I know, the golf ball had a different sound. I went off and played great, and two-and-a-half years later it’s still working.”
Caron is starting his seventh season at Mill River but is relatively new to the club professional business. After graduating from Charleston Southern in 1994, he journeyed around the world of tour golf, including the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, where he estimates he made approximately 100 starts. There also were plenty of mini-tour events, but after he started dating his wife, he told her that if he didn’t get his tour status back in the next year, he would try the club world. In 2012, he got a teaching job at Siwanoy Country Club in Westchester, N.Y., and after three seasons, he moved to Mill River as the head pro.
“This year the biggest difference was when I got in contention to win, I was ready mentally to win the tournament,” Caron said. “Overall, that’s what took me to the winner’s circle.”
Others to receive major honors were Ashley Grier of Overbrook Golf Club in Bryn Mawr, Pa., the Women’s PGA Professional Player of the Year, and former PGA Tour player Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas, the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year, who won eight times in 2020. Caron, Grier and Uresti, a PGA Life Member, will be honored in conjunction with the PGA of America’s annual meeting on Nov. 2-5 in Milwaukee, Wisc. The 2020 annual meeting was scheduled to be in Hartford as the culmination of the two-year presidency of longtime Connecticut resident Suzy Whaley, the first PGA of America female officer, but was reduced to a virtual event because of the pandemic.