A casual golf fan might view a T42 finish at an event as nothing more than an average finish after making the cut. Those familiar with how much PGA Professionals give back to the game, however, are well aware that Ben Kern, PGA Head Golf Professional at Georgetown Country Club, earning a T42 finish at the 100th PGA Championship is well-deserving of celebration.
Kern relocated to the Southern Texas Section in early July when he accepted his role at Georgetown Country Club after having previously worked in Abilene, Texas at Diamondback Golf Club. In the two months since making the transition, Kern has experienced one of the most successful stretches in competitive golf that a PGA Professional can imagine. He and Patrick Buhrmann, the General Manager at Georgetown Country Club, won the Effex Management Solutions Texas Team Championship on July 10. The next month, he won the Texas State Open on August 3, and a week later he was inside the ropes at a major championship competing alongside the best players in the world during the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
"It was so much fun to play in a Tour event," Kern said. "I played on mini tours for five years, so to be at a major championship was a dream come true. To put the good play along with that is something I never could have imagined."
Kern first made a name for himself that week during Friday's second round when he made a birdie on his last hole that propelled him to making the cut on the number, and the opportunity to play during the weekend of a major championship. The funny part was that while the viewing audience knew that putt on the last hole was critical, Kern had no idea it would be impactful as it was.
"I didn't think much about the cutline that day until my second-to-last hole. I figured where I stood at the time was safe, so I went up to that last putt and was kind of casual about it," Kern said. The main goal for the week was just to have fun though. At the start of the week I didn't care if I shot 100 or 62. I was just loving every moment being inside the ropes."
After making it through to weekend action, Kern may not have shot 62, but he did shoot 67 on Saturday which was notable for a couple of reasons. First being that he went around Bellerive bogey-free that day; something Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods were unable to do. He also led the field in proximity to the hole during the third round. His reward for the impressive third round was a final round pairing with two-time major champion Zach Johnson.
"I had heard Zach was an awesome guy, and hands-down he was as nice of a guy as you could get," Kern said. We were chit-chatting that day about everything outside of golf. Some of the things we talked about were so random I can't even remember what they were. He played really well that day and I played all right. He made a lot of birdies, I made a lot of pars."
It was during that round on the 10th hole, a long par-4 that played as one of the hardest holes on the course, where a sequence of events occured that Kern says will stick with him well into the future.
"Zach hit his approach in there to three feet. I went next, and I hit a 5-iron that ended up eight feet from the hole. He was walking in front of me while the shot was in the air, then after it stopped, he turns around to me and goes, 'Okay I have to ask, how the hell are you not playing out here?'
While that might have been something Kern would have never passed up after he finished college at Kansas State, the time for that has passed, and his priorities are elsewhere today.
"The temptation (to get a Tour card) is there, but I don't have any desire. If the PGA Tour came to me and said, 'Hey, here's a ten-year exemption,' that would be one thing. But I like being home and being with my family. My day to day is very steady. I like what I do and I love running a golf operation. I know where my next paycheck is coming from and it hasn't always been like that."
While Kern has kept himself very grounded since his high-quality week at Bellerive, one might think that at the very least his goals within Section competitions have been raised, but with Kern, that simply is not the case.
"Not much has changed goal-wise. I just want to play well tomorrow (in the final round of the 50th Southern Texas PGA Professional Championship) and enjoy the perks of a good finish here. I may not want to play on Tour full-time, but I would like to play in a few events. I’m looking forward to hopefully being on the team for the Joe Black Cup Matches team, and hopefully I'll have my game in gear for the PGA Professional Championship next spring."
As far as what Kern took away most about the talent level of players on Tour, and what he'll pass along to his students in future lessons, all boils down to the level of misses.
"Their bad shots are not that bad. They're so wrapped up in hitting a perfect golf shot that it all comes down to how bad your bad shots are; not how good your good shots are."