What are the chances that one of the 25 club professionals playing in the PGA Championship might sneak in and win at Riviera?
None, if you believe in history. In the 37 years the tournament has been medal play, the best finish by a golf professional--as contrasted with a professional golfer--was the fourth place by Jimmy Wright in 1969.
No one else has been better than 11th.
What are the chances of one of the 25 making the 36-hole cut after today's second round?
For most of them, slim but possible. For Frank Dobbs, a teaching pro at Club Med Holiday Village of Sandpiper in Port St. Lucie, Fla., it's very likely.
Dobbs, 34, shot a four-under-par 67 in Thursday's first round--one of four club professionals to better par. Wayne DeFrancisco, a teaching pro from Pikesville, Mo., who was playing in the same threesome with Dobbs, shot a 69, as did Steve Brady, an assistant pro at the Detroit Golf Club, and Bruce Zabriski, an assistant at Winged Foot.
Three other club pros, Pete Oakley of Panama City, Fla., Ron McDougal of Purchase, N.Y., and Gary Trivisonno of Aurora, Ohio, equaled par 71.
Only four made the cut in the last two PGAs, and in 1989 at Kemper Lakes, not a single club pro survived the first two rounds.
It's not surprising. While the Corey Pavins and Nick Prices of the world are playing tournament golf all year long, the club professionals are giving lessons to high handicappers, minding the golf shop, ordering merchandise and keeping track of golf carts.
Now and then, they get a chance to play in a regional tournament.
Dobbs, who failed in a number of tries at getting his playing card on the PGA Tour, had never seen Riviera before arriving early in the week, but it didn't make much difference because, he said: "The course is so straightforward there's not much to prepare, as long as you drive it in the fairway and hit the greens."
After bogeying two of his first five holes, Dobbs came back with six birdies, including a stretch of three in a row on 15-16-17.
"My birdie on 17 was probably the highlight of my round," Dobbs said. "I drove in the rough, hacked out with an eight-iron and then hit a five-iron about two feet from the cup. Not bad, eh?"
He finished the day with a 12-foot curling putt to save par on No. 18.
"I was prepared to go home happy with a 68, but making that right-to-left putt made the day that much better," said Dobbs, who moved to Florida about two months ago from Pennsylvania, where he was named Philadelphia section player of the year in 1988 and 1990.
Not everyone was so fortunate.
Mike Burke Jr. teed off at 6:40 a.m., the first of 150 players to drive off the elevated first tee in front of Riviera's majestic 69-year-old clubhouse. Burke, 38, played on the tour in 1982, won the Dodge Open and grew up in a golfing family--both his mother and father are professionals and his uncle is famed golf instructor Bob Toski--but he wasn't prepared for that first shot.
"I felt fine warming up, nothing unusual, but when I stood over the ball, my arms just went limp," Burke said. "There weren't many people out there. I just thank God my first shot didn't land in the tent [alongside the first fairway]."
Burke's drive actually split the fairway, as did his second, and he went on to par the hole.
"I have no clue how I hit the ball, either my first or second shot," he said after a 78. "The aura of being the first player in a major tournament like this apparently got the better of me."
Burke missed seven putts under 15 feet.
"There wasn't a spike mark on the course when we teed off," he said. "As a matter of fact, I could have used some on a couple of holes."
Bob Lendzion, who played college golf at Cal State Northridge and turned professional in 1972 as a driving range instructor in Granada Hills, played in the same opening threesome with Burke.
"I played quite a few rounds here when I was playing the mini-tours right out of college," said Lendzion, now head professional at the Quechee Club in Vermont, "and I never saw the greens as perfect as they were when we teed off. I felt awful having to walk on them. I was so conscious of spiking up the greens that I had my caddie fix my divot marks. He was wearing tennis shoes, so he didn't make any marks."
The 25 club pros are survivors of more than 2,000 entries who played in 41 preliminary tournaments to qualify for the PGA Club Professional Championship last year. The low 25 from that championship were invited to play at Riviera.