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Texan Ben Kern Shines As Low Club Professional

Ben Kern completes major debut as Low Club Professional in the 100th PGA Championship ...

By Bob Denney
PGA Historian

What was brewing inside unflappable Ben Kern as he closed a banner week as the Low PGA Club Professional in the 100th PGA Championship?

Having spent just over a month on the job as PGA Head Professional at Georgetown (Texas) Country Club, Kern earned a berth in his first major championship by finishing tied for ninth in June at the PGA Professional Championship.

Actually, Kern’s stepping to the tee at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis was his debut in any event involving tour professionals.

Yet, Kern made it look easy by posting weekend rounds of 67 and 70, to share 42nd place among the strongest field in golf this year. He finished as the second consecutive Southern Texas PGA Member to claim Low Club Professional honors in the PGA Championship. His 3-under-par 277 performance for 72 holes (with rounds of 70-69-67-70) drew the admiration of countless spectators. Fellow contestants gave him high-fives and handshakes.

It was the best finish by a PGA Club Professional since 2005, when Steve Schneiter finished tied for 40th at Baltusrol. Kern, who is 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds, accomplished it with a swing that some observers called “oily smooth,” all the time performing like he had done it all before.

“It’s been awesome,” said Kern, 34, who just four years ago was an instructor at a practice range at Yokota Air Force base in Japan, where his wife, Jessica, was stationed. “It was a blast. I surprised myself how relaxed I was.”

As Kern accepted a crystal bowl from PGA President Paul K. Levy and shook hands with newly-crowned PGA Champion Brooks Koepka, there was a familiar face beaming on the perimeter of the green. It was his father, Jeff Kern, a teaching professional at Forty Niner Country Club in Tucson, Arizona.

“Calm? I guess he gets that from me,” said Jeff, who was celebrating on a PGA Sunday alongside Kern’s wife and daughter, Emma, 3. “He’s definitely a natural golfer. It’s his own swing.”

The PGA Championship capped what Kern described as a “whirlwind month.” He had moved three and a half hours southeast from his Head Professional position at Diamond Back Golf Club in Abilene, Texas, in early July to Round Rock, Texas, outside of Austin. On July 2, he switched from Northern to Southern Texas PGA Section affiliation.

The Kern adventure kept getting better and better. A week before the PGA Championship, Kern roared to victory on Aug. 3, in the Texas State Open at Cascades Club in Tyler, Texas. His scorching rounds of 70-64-62-70 made him just the second PGA Club Professional in the event's history to win.

At Bellerive, he was among a 20-member PGA Club Professional contingent. Kern posted a solid 1-under-par 69 on Friday well ahead of a thunderstorm that postponed play until Saturday morning. Kern didn’t realize how important his rolling home a seven-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole meant. It translated into his making the 36-hole cut on the number – even par 140. It was the lowest PGA Championship cut by score in history and matched 1995 as the lowest cut in relation to par.

As it turned out, the Texas State Open was Kern’s best preparation. “That tournament gave me a ton of confidence,” he explained.

Kern wrapped up his final round at Bellerive with three birdies and three bogeys, and earned $33,281.25.

Reprinted with permission from PGA Magazine