By Mike Blum
The Georgia PGA has frequently qualified at least one player each year for the PGA Championship, even with the recent reduction of the number of PGA members in the field.
Over the past 15 or so years, Georgia has sent its best club professionals to one of golf’s four major championships. Stephen Keppler, James Mason, Craig Stevens, Tim Weinhart and Sonny Skinner have all qualified for the PGA Championship, most of them multiple times.
Weinhart is going back for a fifth time this month, but he will not be the state’s sole representative among the 20 club professionals who will tee it up at Hazeltine.
Kevin Roman, an instructor at Cherokee Country Club in Sandy Springs, will join Weinhart in the field. But unlike his fellow Georgia PGA members who have qualified in the recent past, Roman’s name is not a prominent one in the state club professional ranks.
Roman has been in the Georgia PGA since coming to Cherokee some seven years ago, but has played a limited tournament schedule and has not enjoyed that many top finishes when he has played, other than some events in the assistants’ division.
“It’s tough with work to get the time off, and I had shoulder surgery two years ago,” Roman said shortly before leaving for Minnesota to play in the PGA Championship.
Roman played only a handful of Georgia PGA tournaments last year, and his only start in an individual event in 2009 came in the Match Play Championship, where he was knocked out in the first round.
Prior to competing in the PGA Professional National Championship in New Mexico, Roman’s most extensive tournament experience this year had come in U.S. Open qualifying. He shot 67 at Marietta CC to share medalist honors in a local qualifier, and despite shooting a 66 in the second round of sectionals at Hawks Ridge, had to settle for a tie for 11th, with only the top three finishers qualifying.
The U.S. Open sectional qualifier conflicted with the Atlanta Golf Open, and Roman left for Minnesota while the Georgia Open was being played, keeping him out of two of the Georgia PGA’s biggest events.
After some respectable showings last year in the Atlanta Golf Open (T13) and Section Championship (T20), Roman set his sights on playing well enough in the Georgia PGA’s PNC qualifier to make it to nationals in New Mexico.
After shooting a 76 in the first round of the Georgia PGA qualifier at Crystal Lake with two tee shots that went out of bounds, Roman rebounded with a 68 in difficult conditions, the only player in the field to break 70. That vaulted him to a fourth place finish and a spot in this year’s PNC.
“Last summer I only had two goals – to make the PNC and qualify for the PGA.”
Roman achieved both, even though he admitted, “I haven’t played very well in Section events.”
Roman headed to New Mexico in late June with the intent of winning the tournament, and after a second round 66, was in fourth place and definitely in contention for victory. A third round 72 left him five strokes off the lead heading to the final round, and any hopes he had of winning quickly vanished when he played his first four holes in 3-over,
“That was probably good; it woke me up,” Roman said of a double bogey on the fourth hole that knocked him out of contention for a victory. “I set a goal to make four birdies to get back to around par and I did.”
Three birdies in a six-hole stretch got Roman back inside the top 20, the cutoff for qualifying for the PGA Championship, but he had to endure a somewhat adventurous finish, going birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey on holes 14 through 17 to finish at 2-under 282 and a tie for 16th.
Roman shot 1-over 72 all three rounds on the Twin Warriors course, the primary host for the event, with his 66 coming on the Santa Ana GC, which all the club professionals played once over the first two days.
“Contrary to belief, I was very relaxed the final round,” Roman said, referring to unfounded speculation by the commentators on the Golf Channel broadcast.
“After the birdie at 14, I did not think that I wouldn’t make it.”
When he walked off the 18th green after making par, Roman knew he was in a playoff to go to the PGA. As it turned out, eight players tied for 16th at 282, with five spots available.
Roman’s intent in the playoff was just to make pars.
“I was trying to make birdie, but I knew as long as I didn’t make bogey, I’d be OK.”
All it took was two pars, and Roman was able to book his flight to the Minnesota.
This will be the first time Roman has played in the PGA Championship, but it is neither his first appearance in a PGA Tour event or a major championship.
Roman, a native of Utica, N.Y., played in the B.C. Open a few times and also qualified for the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
“To me, that was a major,” Roman laughed, referring to the B.C. Open, for years the least consequential tournament on the PGA Tour before becoming a Champions Tour event a few years ago.
Roman played on the golf team at SUNY-Utica and turned pro in 1990. For the next decade or so, he split his time between playing and club professional jobs, competing in PGA Section events, the occasional area mini-tour tournaments and making four trips to Q-school.
“I gave it a shot,” he said of his efforts to make it as a player. “I have no regrets. It’s not for everyone.”
In 2002, Roman says he “decided to quit playing and move south. A job opened here and I was very fortunate to get it.”
Roman has worked at Cherokee for the last seven years as in instructor, working on his game around his lesson schedule and playing with members on Saturday mornings.
As far as his preparations for the PGA Championship, Roman says, “I’m not going to change anything technique-wise. I’m going to just try and do the same things I’ve done.
“The only difference is I’m going to change some clubs in my bag. I’m going to add some hybrid fairway woods to get out of the rough. I don’t change my bag makeup very often. It makes me a little nervous to do it.”
Although Roman has played demanding courses before, after a scouting trip to Minnesota, he says Hazeltine “is by far the longest golf course I’ve ever played. It’s not even close. There are no breathers at all.”
Although it’s been 16 years since he played at Baltusrol, Roman says he will “draw on my U.S. Open experience. I know what the atmosphere is going to be like. I’ll try to treat it like it’s a regular golf tournament, as much as it’s not.
“I’m not afraid to play hard courses. I like to be challenged as much as I can.”