BLUFFTON, South Carolina – Whether you’re CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a golf pro trying to grab a piece of the $550,000 purse in the 2019 PGA Professional Championship there’s a common denominator: it’s all about the numbers.
And, in the case of Fiddlesticks Country Club (Ft. Myers) pro Justin McCarraher, there’s a promising tale to tell halfway through the tournament, held this year at Belfair Golf Club in Bluffton, South Carolina.
McCarraher posted numbers of 70- 75-145, for a two-day total of 2-over par. He’s competing against a talented field of 312 rank-and-file club professionals from 45 states and 41 different PGA Sections, and sits T-32 which is narrowly within the cut line of 4-over.
The 52nd PGA Professional Championship consists of four rounds of stroke play on two courses. Cuts are made after 36 holes of the low 90-plus ties, and low 70-plus ties after 54 holes.
McCarraher, who turned pro in 2004 after graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University, is a perfect example of how deep the field is and how good your game has to be to get here. His 18-hole score is rarely over par.
McCarraher and all 312 of these PGA club pros have PGA Tour aspirations. Justin’s first taste of victory as a pro came in 2007 at the Coors Light Open at Fort Myers Country Club. It’s been a struggle after a few failed attempts at Q-School and a few missed cuts on the Web.com Tour.
Justin’s best year has been 2017, regularly cashing checks in the South Florida Section PGA tournaments, which is the second largest section in the country, and some would argue the most competitive. He earned 2017 Player of the Year honors in the Southwest Chapter.
“My biggest goal is to make the 54-hole cut,” McCarraher told a handful of members in the Fiddlesticks Country Club pro shop last week. “I’m playing well and will take it one step at a time. It would be a major accomplishment to play in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in a few weeks. I’m not looking ahead but it might be a little cool up there in Long Island in May.”
Many in the ranks of the 29,000 PGA pros across the U.S. have tried and most have failed, because there’s only one way to get into this event. You get here the old-fashioned way, through qualifying at regional events.
And make no mistake, there is a huge difference in the lifestyle of these club pros and the multi-millionaire pros we watch each week on TV. Many players who traveled here to South Carolina have been subsidized by generous contributions from club members where they are gainfully employed.
Fiddlesticks Country Club members raised over $4,000 to help pay all expenses for McCarraher.
And like Justin McCarraher, most of the players here work full-time at a golf club servicing private and public golf club memberships. Few are able to devote every day to pounding balls on the range, hitting hundreds of chip shots and putts to improve their own game, which makes this pressure-packed week a career-maker.
Why is this week so important?
Well, let’s look at the numbers – again. First, the winner receives the Walter Hagen Cup and an automatic exemption to six PGA Tour events over a 12-month period. Second, you earn another exemption into the 2020 PGA Cup. Third, and most important, the top 20 PGA Club Pros qualify for one of golf’s most prestigious championships – the 2019 PGA Championship, which will be held at Bethpage Black May 16-19, featuring a whopping purse of $11 million.
South Florida Section PGA Executive Director Geoff Lofstead has a close watch on 15 players participating this week. His section has 1850 members including Justin McCarraher, whom he is very familiar with due to his steady tournament performances.
“Justin is consistently a top-10 player in our South Florida PGA events,” said Lofstead in a telephone interview. “And that says a lot about Justin because we have one of the strongest sections in the country. The PGA Professional Championship is loaded with talented club pros like Justin. And you have to remember, most of these pros don’t have the time and resources to play golf all the time because they are working full-time at their respective clubs.”
When the field is cut to top 70 after 54 holes it will be all about who has the best numbers! They are eyeing not only the $55,00 first place check, but will be playing for the biggest prize of their golf career – a trip to the second major championship of the year – the PGA Championship!