Stuart Deane has never played in one of the PGA’s four major championships, but he knows what to expect from one of professional golf’s premier events: plenty of drama.
Deane – a 42-year-old teaching professional at Rolling Hills Country Club in north Arlington and volunteer assistant coach for the UT-Arlington men’s golf team – is about to live the drama. He’s qualified to play in the 2014 PGA Championship in August at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Brisbane, Australia, native is one of just 20 club professionals to earn a spot in the PGA Championship. He did so by finishing alone in third place, one stroke out of first, at the PGA Professional National Championship late last month in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In his three previous tries, Deane missed out on qualifying for the PGA Championship by a single shot.
“For any golfer, the epitome of everything would be to play a major,” said Deane, who grew up watching on TV two of the four majors – the British Open and the Masters. “As a member of the PGA, it’s really cool to go and represent your membership, to represent the club community. I think that’s the really cool aspect of it.”
Deane’s accomplished a rare feat. As Vince Pellman, Rolling Hills golf professional points out, there are 24,000 PGA members and apprentices and only 144 get to play in the PGA’s signature tournament. “He is playing for a lot of people who will never get there,” Pellman said.
A change in strategy
Deane, who has been on the Nationwide (now called Web.com) Tour, has played in a dozen PGA events – and eight years ago won the Trump Million-Dollar Invitational, seems unfazed by the challenging conditions he’s likely to face at the PGA Championship.
“It’s a different model, it’s a different way the course is set up,” Deane said. “Firmer greens, harder pin placement. … Every golf course can be set that way. They want even par. They want the drama. They want to separate their best players from the bunch.”
When his first major is in the books, Deane envisions as a realistic goal finishing in the top 30 and shooting the lowest score of the club professionals.
To aid his comfort level, Deane plans to show up early to the tournament site to get a feel for his surroundings. That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed at the National Championship in June. He arrived at Dunes Golf & Beach Club more than two weeks prior to the tournament and used his extra time to get a feel for the grounds and play the courses several times.
The instructor also did something else to feel more at home: Instead of having a caddie assigned to him, he brought along his pupil and friend Wes Worster, a UT-Arlington alumnus.
“I said, ‘OK, this year, I’m going to take somebody I’ve played a lot of golf with, somebody I know,’” Deane said. “Just changing it up made a difference.”
His comfort on the course showed, as Deane blew past a field of 312 players to finish the tournament one under par and one stroke back of making it to a playoff to decide the winner. And during his final round, Deane produced the top highlight of the entire tournament when he holed his second shot from 134 yards out on the par-4 17th.
“When I hit it, I knew it was going to be close,” Deane said.
Charting a new course
Back home from qualifying for the PGA championship, Deane has settled back into business as usual. He’s kept busy helping prepare for this week’s Texas Women’s Open at Rolling Hills, the first time the club has hosted such a tournament.
“We’ve had multiple things going on as well as some teaching,” Deane said of his frantic schedule.
Deane came on board at Rolling Hills last August – right as the club, which has had an 18-hole course since 1962, prepared to unveil a massive renovation that added 300 yards to the length of the course, altered the configuration of all but five holes, tacked on two new water features and increased by 30 the number of bunkers.
“And now we have this course to match what we’re trying to do,” Deane said. “It’s a great community, a great club, it’s very easy to show up here and do your thing.”
Life might seem totally normal for these days if not a rash of media requests that has followed Deane’s qualifying for a major. A cable sports network recently spent a day following Deane, who has an infant son, around at home and a work for a mini-documentary.
“Having the camera crew here was fun for me, but it was fun for everyone,” Deane said. “It was fun for the membership and family and friends, so I had everybody racing to be a part of it. I might play in another one of these, or it might never happen again, so to have everyone be a part of this is really cool.”