Ben Polland wins PGA club pro title, winning by 3 shots

FRISCO, Texas — Wyoming club pro Ben Polland atoned from a crushing loss in 2015 with steady golf in a tough Texas wind, closing with a 4-over 76 for a three-shot victory Wednesday in the PGA Professional Championship.

Polland and 19 other club professionals advance to the PGA Championship on May 16-19 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky.

Among them will be Tracy Phillips, the longtime Oklahoma professional who will make his PGA Championship debut in two weeks at age 61.

Wyatt Worthington II of Ohio will be playing the PGA Championship for the third straight year by making it harder than it needed to be. He went from the 36-hole lead to rounds of 78-80 and claimed the 20th spot by making a 4-foot bogey putt on the par-5 18th at Fields Ranch.

Polland, the director of golf at Shooting Star of Jackson Hole, thought he had the PGA Professional Championship won in his debut in 2015. He took a two-shot lead to the final hole and made a double bogey, while Matt Dobyns made birdie for a three-shot swing to win.

“With what happened my first time, I always knew if I kept trying hard, working hard, I’d have a chance,” Polland said. “I can’t believe it’s done.”

He had an early wobble with a double bogey on the par-4 fifth hole. But then, everyone was struggling in a strong field on the West course.

Jeremy Wells of Crystal Lake Golf Club in Estero, Florida, was the only player to break par. His 70 moved him from a tie for 45th to a tie for eighth, earning a spot at the PGA Championship for the second straight year.

As usual, most of the drama was at the bottom in the battle for the final spots.

Braden Shattuck, the defending champion from outside Philadelphia, had not made a birdie the entire round and bogeys on the 16th and 17th hole put him into a large tie for 20th. He reached the green in two on the downwind closing hole, and his two-putt birdie gave him a 78. The birdie also knocked out five players from a playoff that would have decided the 20th spot.

Worthington extended the drama. He needed only a bogey on the 18th hole to secure a spot at Valhalla and hit iron off the tee to play it safe. But in a peculiar decision, he went for the green and came up short into a hazard. He took a penalty drop, hit wedge for his fourth shot some 30 feet long and rolled the par putt 4 feet by.

Worthington made the bogey putt for an 80, pulled his cap over his eyes and breathed a heavy sigh after a rough final 36 holes.

It was the second straight year the PGA Professional Championship did not require a playoff to determine the field of 20 club pros who earn spots at Valhalla.

Phillips is director of instruction at Cedar Ridge in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which has hosted LPGA Tour and LIV Golf events. Golf Digest rated him the No. 1 junior in 1979, and he went on to play at Oklahoma State. But after trying to play overseas, he switched to teaching and went 20 years without playing until his desire returned.

He played with Ernie Els in the Senior PGA Championship two years ago and called that a dream come true.

“Now I get to play with the younger guys and hit even more woods into greens than I did this week,” Phillips said. “Just to be able to do this is unbelievable.”

The PGA Championship will have 21 club pros. Michael Block of California tied for 39th at Fields Ranch. He already was exempt for the PGA Championship from finishing in the top 15 last year at Oak Hill.

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