Stuart Clark of Pawleys Island has been trying to balance his return from evacuating for Hurricane Matthew, his 9-year-old son’s soccer practices and games, and his job as an instructor at the Steve Dresser Golf Academy at True Blue Golf Club with his preparation for his biggest tournament in several years.
Clark and his wife, Melissa, a marketing professor at Coastal Carolina University, drove to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Monday for the 40th $100,000 Assistant PGA Professional Championship from Thursday through Sunday at PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course.
Clark, 41, qualified for the PGA of America tournament by winning the National Car Rental Carolinas Assistant PGA Professional Championship in August at River Run Country Club in Davidson, N.C. He was one of five players from the CPGA tournament who earned spots in the national championship for PGA assistants and apprentices.
Over the past couple weeks he has been trying to get in 60 to 90 minutes of range practice around dawn, and has been hitting balls after dark in the Dresser Academy indoor hitting bays, where he’s been performing practice drills and filming his swing.
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“You can hit balls, you just can’t see where they’re going,” Clark said. “It’s not your normal tour player regimen for getting ready for a major tournament, but for us working guys you have to do what you have to do. And I’m a competitor, so I’m going to do it.”
It’s not your normal tour player regimen for getting ready for a major tournament, but for us working guys you have to do what you have to do. And I’m a competitor, so I’m going to do it.
The North Alabama graduate believes this week’s event will be his first 72-hole tournament since about 2000, when he was playing mini-tours and developmental tours, including the Strand-based Hooters Tour (now Swing Thought Tour).
He played in the 36-hole North Charleston Open on Oct. 15-16 and finished third with a 69 in the final round at Wescott Plantation, which was playing approximately 7,200 yards.
“The down side of teaching a lot is I don’t get a lot of chances to play,” said Clark, who shot a 2-under 142 in the CPGA assistants tournament and won in a playoff. “I just wanted to play some golf and see where my game was. It’s still there somewhere, I just need to tap into it.”
A field of between 126 and 132 assistant professionals and apprentices will be cut to 70 players and ties through 36 holes Friday. The winner will receive $9,000 of the $100,000 purse and a spot in the 2017 PGA Professional Championship.
Clark has never played the Wanamaker Course. “One of the main reasons I wanted to leave today was I wanted to play two practice rounds and work on short game some,” Clark said.
Past Assistant PGA Professional Championship winners and competitors include Loren Roberts (1979 champion), Fred Funk (1984 champion), Tim Thelen (2009 champion) and Rich Beem (1998 third place).