By Gavin Menu
It was back to pitching and putting at the Poxabogue Golf Center Tuesday afternoon, teaching children how to hit driver and tracking the flights of his students’ iron shots. To the casual observer, it would be hard to tell that club pro Rob Corcoran had just come off the highlight of his golfing career.
Corcoran, who winters in Florida but returns every summer to teach at Poxabogue in Sagaponack, qualified as part of the field for last week’s 96th PGA Championship, professional golf’s fourth and final major tournament of the year, which was played at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.
Corcoran shot rounds of 76 and 77 (+11) to open the tournament, failing to make the weekend cut. Rory McIlroy, the number-one player in the world, won the tournament with a score of 16-under after sinking a par putt on the 18th green in darkness late Sunday.
Regardless of missing the weekend cut, Corcoran said it was the best week of his life and certainly the highlight of his playing career to be inside the ropes alongside players like McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, who also missed the cut at Valhalla.
“I wished that I played a little bit better, but as far as the experience went, it was incredible and such an eye-opening experience,” Corcoran said after arriving back in East Hampton. “All and all there was not one negative I left there with.”
Every year, the PGA welcomes 20 club professionals as part of the major championship field. Corcoran, 38, posted an impressive 12th place finish at the PGA Professional National Championship at The Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in June to qualify for last week’s tournament, which was his first appearance on the PGA Tour.
His June finish in South Carolina also earned Corcoran an automatic berth in next year’s National Club Pro, which will be played at the Philadelphia Cricket Club next June, where another 20 pros will earn the right to play in golf’s fourth major.
“That’s the goal next year, to get back to the PGA,” Corcoran said. “I’m trying to stay diligent in training my body to stay fit and to stay strong. And use this experience to get better going forward.”
At Valhalla, Corcoran played four practice rounds of nine holes each leading into the tournament, playing the last practice round with Jim Furyk, a long-time pro and winner of the 2003 U.S. Open. Corcoran said Furyk’s father is also a club pro, and understands how demanding it is to balance work with competition and also how hard it is to reach the highest levels of golf as a working professional.
“We were out there for probably three hours for nine holes,” Corcoran said about his round with Furyk. “For me, it couldn’t have worked out any better. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy.”
What Corcoran discovered playing the PGA at Valhalla was that the course was 400 to 600 yards longer than most tournaments he plays. As a result, what would normally be a 7-iron to the green turns into a 4- or 5-iron, shots that are much more difficult to control.
“What I took from the week is golf is becoming a long hitter’s sport,” Corcoran said. “Even though there are a few guys like Jim Furyk who are able to manage these difficult golf courses, the long hitters are at a huge advantage.”
As he got back to teaching on Wednesday, Corcoran said the experience will likely make him an improved instructor. He said he has drawn a tremendous amount of energy from spending a week with the greatest golfers in the world.
“I’m more energetic to practice my game, I’m more energetic to teach golf lessons,” Corcoran said. “When you’re chipping balls 10 feet from Tiger and 15 feet from Phil, and you’re watching their techniques up close, that’s pretty good stuff.”