PGA Championship

Monday Notebook from PGA of America Pool Reporter Jeff Babineau

May 13, 2024


Jeff Babineau

A shooting star from Shooting Star readies for his Valhalla debut

Ben Polland, the 33-year-old Director of Golf at Shooting Star in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, leads the Corebridge Financial Team comprising 21 PGA of America Golf Professionals into this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla.

Polland captured the PGA Professional Championship at Fields Ranch in Frisco, Texas, to earn his way, the only player in the field to finish four rounds under par (-2). This week will mark Polland’s fourth PGA Championship start. He feels far more prepared than he did when he turned up to his first PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015. That marked only the second 72-hole tournament he had ever played.

Polland had excelled in the PGA’s Metropolitan Section, winning the MET Open, and played on the developmental Korn Ferry Tour in 2019, but did not enjoy much success that season. He played in 21 events and earned $31,032. When a chance to rejoin the golf industry arose at Jackson Hole a few years ago, he took it.

Competing in the PGA Championship is a great perk to being the nation’s top PGA of America Golf Professional, and gives Polland a taste of the dream he was chasing. He captured $60,000 and the Walter Hagen Cup for winning in Frisco, and victory came with a few other nice perks, too. He will have six starts on the PGA TOUR next season, and already has been named to the U.S. team that will play Great Britain & Ireland in the PGA Cup at Sunriver Resort in Oregon in September.

“I've been fortunate to play on two of those so far, and will have my third this fall,” Polland said. “That is, by far, one of my favorite weeks I've had playing golf. It's incredible.”

Not earning the six tour starts was the thing Polland missed most when he finished second at the PGA Professional Championship nine years ago at Philadelphia Cricket Club. He went to the 18th tee on the final day leading by two shots over Matt Dobyns. Polland made double bogey, Dobyns made birdie, and Dobyns won by a shot to take the title.

“I was just very inexperienced playing in that tournament,” Polland said Monday at Valhalla. “I think what I learned from it was just to take one shot at a time and not think too far ahead. I often remind myself about my mindset, where I was that day or that hole, really, and I kind of protect myself from getting ahead of things.

“Just like diagnosing a lie or the conditions or the shot, whatever it is. That's kind of been ingrained in me as part of my process right now.”

The Corebridge Financial Team usually would consist of 20 players, but is expanded to 21 this week to add Michael Block, who earned his way back into the PGA Championship via finishing in the top 15 a year ago at Oak Hill.

Make room for Papa

Making his way to the range at Valhalla early Monday afternoon was Scottie Scheffler, the top-ranked player in the world who already has won four times this season, including the 88th Masters in April.

Scheffler withdrew from last week’s elevated Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., but had a pretty good reason for the absence: He and his wife, Meredith, were home in Dallas, welcoming their first child, a son named Bennett.

On his way to go hit some golf balls on Monday, Scheffler stopped on the practice green for a few minutes to chat with Jon Rahm, a former World No.1, a fellow Masters champion, and most importantly, a fellow member of Scheffler’s newest club. Rahm is a father to two young sons, Kepa and Eneko, and he and his wife, Kelly, announced in March that a third child is on the way.

On his way to sign a few autographs, Rahm asked if he had given Scheffler any good tips on first-time fatherhood. Rahm laughed. “I’m sure right now, he welcomes talking about anything but golf,” he said.

Lowry just needs some Irish luck

Shane Lowry of Ireland is making his 13th start at the PGA Championship this week. His third appearance came in 2014 at Valhalla, the tournament won by his buddy, Rory McIlroy. Lowry opened with 68 that year, closed with 67, and tied for 46th. His performances in the championship would get progressively better through the years, and would include a T-4 in 2021 at Kiawah Island.

Lowry partnered with McIlroy a few weeks ago to win the PGA Tour’s lone team event of the year, the Zurich Classic. Surely winning any event, even a team event, must deliver a player momentum, right?

He laughed.

“Any momentum that I had,” he said Monday, “was gone at Quail Hollow last week. It was nice to get a win, nice to get a jump in the FedEx (points table), takes a little bit of pressure off out there.

“Myself and Quail Hollow, it’s just been a place where I’ve never played well before ... I don’t see my way around there very well, unlike Rory.”

McIlroy ran away to victory last week, while Lowry, the 2019 Open champion at Royal Portrush, tied for 47th. Still, Lowry believes that if Valhalla plays tough this week – and it will certainly play longer if expected rains hit overnight on Monday and during Tuesday – it can be a good fit for him. He plays the tough courses well. And there is one club in his bag he says holds the key to him being a factor.

“Played here in 2014, it was a long time ago,” he said. “It’s going to be tough. It’s going to take a lot of good golf, and it’s going to take a good mental game, as well. The way it’s been for me over the last while, if I can putt well, I can do well.”

Short shots: Taylor Montgomery withdrew on Monday, and was replaced in the field by C.T. Pan... Two players in this week’s field have played in the three previous PGA Championships played at Valhalla (1996, 2000, 2014): Phil Mickelson and John Daly. Mickelson has three top-10 finishes at the venue, including a runner-up showing in 2014