PGA Championship

For Corebridge Financial Team, two get through, and heartache for others

May 18, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

LOUISVILLE, KY. – Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, the 2022 U.S. Open champion, did a double-take when walking past PGA of America Golf Professional Preston Cole earlier this week at Valhalla Golf Club, home to the 106th PGA Championship.

A puzzled Fitzpatrick stopped Cole and asked him, “Hey, aren’t you the guy that helped me out with my driver last week?”

He was. A week earlier in Charlotte, Cole, 30, was running around on the job at Quail Hollow, where he works as Lead Assistant PGA Professional. The top PGA Tour pros were in town for the Wells Fargo Championship. Fitzgerald broke his driver in the second round, so Cole rushed to his assistance, working hard to find three or four shaft options in time for Saturday’s third round.

Cole was wearing a different hat in Louisville. This time, he, too, was a player, competing in his first PGA Championship. The golf didn’t go as he would have hoped; rounds of 75-83 left him well off the cutline at Valhalla. But the experience? He loved it. Cole, part of this week’s Corebridge Financial Team comprising 21 PGA of America Golf Professionals, cannot wait to get back to another PGA, knowing next time will be better.

“Just being here with the family and friends,” Cole said, “it was a unique experience for us. Hopefully the first of many. Just trying to soak in every moment.”

Two Corebridge Financial Team members played well enough through 36 holes to earn their way into the weekend at Valhalla. Jeremy Wells is the 33-year-old Director of Player Development at Cypress Lake Golf Club in Fort Myers, Florida. He had golf to play on Saturday morning, completing his second round with a couple of clutch pars to shoot 71 to finish at 2-under 140 for 36 holes. That earned him a third-round time Saturday afternoon alongside Martin Kaymer, a former PGA Champion, and Tyrrell Hatton, two regulars on European Ryder Cup teams.

Wells had a brutal stretch early in his round on Friday – starting at the 12th, he went bogey; double bogey; bogey; bogey. At Oak Hill a year ago, he was inside the cutline in the second round until a deluge of rain washed away his chances. This time, his play was derailing him. But Wells dug deep, and played his last 12 holes in 3 under to shoot level-par 71.

Wells had his wife, Melissa, his parents, and two of his three children in his gallery. When he made his double bogey, he could see the pain in their faces. After his finish, Wells was most proud that his kids got to see Dad fight hard when things were not going his way.

“For them to see me remain composed and continue to perform and hang in there,” Wells said, getting emotional as he spoke, “I'll remember it, but I hope they will, too.”

Watching his son play, Leigh Wells could not help but be struck by the meaning of the moment Saturday morning. Competing on one of golf’s grandest stages has been a dream of Jeremy’s since his father introduced him to golf at 5 years old, when Leigh built little holes around the house. In Virginia, they eventually moved closer to a golf course, and Jeremy was hooked.

“This is awesome,” Leigh Wells said as Jeremy prepared for the quick turnaround between the second and third rounds at Valhalla. “It's a tear-jerking moment. He always loved the game. He had the poster of Tiger lining up a putt on his bedroom wall. So sure, this is a dream come true. We’ll see what happens. One shot at a time.”

Joining Wells in playing on the weekend at Valhalla was fellow PGA Golf Professional Braden Shattuck, who, like Wells, made his PGA Championship debut at Oak Hill a year ago. Both had advanced to this week’s PGA Championship via top-20 finishes at the PGA Professional Championship in Frisco, Texas.

Wells and Shattuck, 29, each had to do something special just to advance through the PPC in Frisco, Texas. Wells, who played collegiately at The College of William & Mary, bounced back from shooting 80 in the third round with a final-round 70 to earn his way to Valhalla. Shattuck, who in 2019 was involved in a severe car accident that herniated two disks and kept him from swinging a club for two years, birdied his final hole in Frisco to make it on the number.

At Valhalla, Shattuck shot 71-70. The field had yet to finish second round when he left the course late Friday, he pretty much was assured a weekend tee time. He came up big in the end, making putts of 35 feet on his 35th hole (for birdie) and saving par from a bunker at the par-4 ninth on Friday, his final hole. He had a 4-footer that meant sticking around for Saturday, and made it.

“That’s why we play the game,” said Shattuck, Director of Instruction at Rolling Green Golf Club outside Philadelphia. “We want to be in position to make cuts and win tournaments, so it’s great to be tested, and to pass the test.”

It was a solid year for the 21 PGA of America Golf Professionals who made it to Valhalla. In addition to Wells and Shattuck making it to weekend play, a handful of others came close to joining them, but just missed. The cut fell at 1-under 141, the lowest cut total in PGA Championship history.

That group of CFT pros at 142 included 2024 PPC champion Ben Polland (Jackson Hole, Wyoming) who fell one short despite a second-round 69; Kyle Mendoza (Oceanside, California), who birdied his final hole but missed by one; and 41-year-old Jesse Mueller (Phoenix), who shot 70-72.

Saturday marked opening day at Shooting Star in Wyoming, and club members spent the early hours of the day rooting the club's Director of Golf back in Kentucky. After missing the cut in his fourth PGA Championship, Polland was sticking around Louisville on the weekend to spend time with family and friends that had gathered to watch him.

And what does next week hold for him? Polland smiled. “Back to work,” he said.

As for Cole, by advancing to Valhalla, he is exempt into next year's PGA Professional Championship, which will be played at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. That is the venue where Cole won the Assistant PGA Professional Championship last autumn. Good vibes there.

Should he get through to his second PGA Championship, at the very least, Cole will not have to spend much time learning the golf course. The 2025 PGA Championship will be played at Quail Hollow.