PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — It takes more than a proper alignment of the stars to complete Rob Phelps’ rare golf feat.
The 54-year-old PGA assistant professional at Onondaga Golf Country Club in Fayetteville, N.Y., also has the game one needs to earn a berth into three PGA of America National Championships in the same season.
By salvaging a par on the second playoff hole Sept. 28, during nasty weather in Elmira Heights, N.Y., Phelps earned a trip to represent the Central New York PGA Section in the 36th National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship presented by COBRA PUMA GOLF. The final PGA member championship of the year is Nov. 1-4, at PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
“I’m pretty excited about this final championship of the year, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind to try to do this in one season,” said Phelps, a native of Cortland, N.Y., who turned professional in 1996.
“There is more to what goes into this than just working hard on your game. You must have the support of your home club. I get great support from PGA head professional Russell Schreiber and from Ryan Hammerle, the other assistant professional at our club. Ryan is an outstanding professional and he happened to be in the same graduating class as my son.”
Perhaps its fits that Phelps earned the opportunity to play in a third national championship after his battle in the Central New York PGA Assistant Championship on the Mark Twain Golf Course in Elmira Heights. The course namesake and legendary wit may have enjoyed charting Phelps’ journey.
Phelps opened with an 80, and needed a 74 in the second round under rugged weather conditions to tie Matthew Jaynes of Beaver Dams, N.Y. The twosome played the par-4 18th hole twice in the playoff, and each bogeyed on the first tour. Phelps made his par putt on his return to the 18th green, while Jaynes bogeyed.
Last June, Phelps made his first appearance in the PGA Professional National Championship. That trip came after finishing third in the 2011 Central New York PGA Championship at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y. He had earned a national berth in 2010, but that trip was curtailed due to his attending his daughter’s high school graduation ceremony.
Last June, Phelps missed the 36-hole cut at Bayonet Black Horse in Seaside, Calif., after what he said was a case of “playing too often from the wood chips and pine needles and facing some very firm greens.”
Things improved last July, when Phelps finished runner-up in the Section Senior Championship at Partridge Run in Canton, N.Y., and he went on to finish tied for 57th in the Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship at Creighton Farms in Aldie, Va. His boss, Schreiber, also competed in the Championship field, but missed the cut.
“It was a great trip, and I wish I had played better at River Creek Club (in Leesburg, Va.),” said Phelps of a second-round 78. “I enjoyed both courses, however. It was easier for me to be able to drive down to the Championship. I was surprised how unseasonably cool it was that week.”
The National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship brings Phelps full circle to a facility that he knows well. He competed in the 2009 Senior PGA Professional National Championship at the Wanamaker Course, and the 2010 PGA Senior-Junior Championship, where he faced two-time national assistant champion Darrell Kestner of Deepdale, N.Y., and his partner, someone who would later make an impact this season – reigning PGA Professional National Champion Matt Dobyns of Sea Cliff, N.Y.
“I like the golf courses at PGA Golf Club and have played a few rounds on them,” said Phelps. “It will be nice to come in and not be totally unfamiliar with what you face. It will be fun and I am happy to get this opportunity.”
Phelps and his wife, Machell, live in Cortland, N.Y., and are parents of a son, Robbie, a 28-year-old PGA assistant professional at Waldon Oaks Country Club in Cortland; and a daughter, Jenna, 21, who is a senior at Syracuse University.