By Mike Blum
For more than 15 years, Clark Spratlin has been trying to achieve one of the loftiest goals for a member of the PGA – qualifying for the PGA Championship.
Spratlin has competed in the PGA Professional National Championship – the event that provides the nation’s club professionals with an opportunity to qualify for one of golf’s Grand Slam events — seven times.
Five times since 2005, Spratlin has made the cut in the PNC, and has made very strong runs on three occasions at earning a spot in the PGA.
Typically, it’s been one bad round, or as little as one bad hole, that has denied Spratlin the chance to tee it up against the best players in the world.
Spratlin’s most recent disappointment came in 2008 at Reynolds Plantation, when one ugly number on his third round scorecard resulted in his missing a top-20 finish by two strokes.
The previous year, Spratlin came up just one stroke shy of the top 20. The year before that, Spratlin missed by three at Kiawah Island, recovering from a horrendous third round in awful conditions to shoot 69 the final day.
“I’ve been right there three times,” Spratlin says of his multiple close calls. “But it’s felt like I’ve always had one bad hole that got in the way.”
Spratlin will take another shot at his elusive goal of qualifying for the PGA Championship, with the 2012 PGA PNC scheduled for June 24-27 at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in northern California. The top 20 finishers in the event will qualify for the PGA Championship in August at Kiawah Island’s famed Ocean Course, and Spratlin hopes to be among the 20.
Spratlin will not be quite as tournament-tested going into this year’s PNC as he has been in previous attempts.
For most of his 15-plus years in the Georgia PGA, Spratlin has been in position to play a full Section tournament schedule, and has been one of the Section’s top players since the late 1990s.
Between 2001 and ’04, Spratlin won three Match Play Championships and the Griffin Classic twice, and added a Georgia PGA Championship in 2008 and a win in the Chicopee Woods Players Championship last year.
He’s also come close to victory numerous times, including a playoff loss to Tim Weinhart in last year’s Georgia PGA qualifier for the PNC.
“I’ve taken my lumps,” says Spratlin, who cites his frequent struggles with his putting as the main reason for him not winning more than he has.
“That was my downfall. But I’ve become a better putter.
“And I’ve learned to back off a little. I’m not 30 any more. If I need to take a bogey, I’ll take it and get out.”
Spratlin enjoyed one of his best seasons last year, placing 3rd on the Georgia PGA points list with a victory, finishes of 2nd, 3rd and 4th and a tie for 6th in the Georgia Open, where he shared low Georgia PGA member honors. He also edged out Weinhart to earn theGreg Wolff low stroke average for the year.
Since then, Spratlin has landed a new job as head professional at Currahee Club, a private facility in northeast Georgia that is launching a major push after new owners took over the outstanding but previously financially troubled facility last year.
As a result of his new responsibilities, Spratlin has been unable to play as full a Georgia PGA schedule as he has in the past, missing two tournaments he has won a combined five times. But in his first start of the season, he finished just one stroke out of a playoff in the Chicopee Woods Players Championship, where he was the defending champion.
Last year was an enjoyable one on and off the course for Spratlin, who spent 2011 working at Georgia Golf Center as an instructor after almost six years of work at a golf course that never opened.
Spratlin was brought on as head-professional-to-be at Blue Ridge River & Golf Club in 2004 after a successful stint as head professional at Atlanta National. The Blue Ridge course encountered several setbacks along the way and never opened for play, with the attempt to get club off the ground finally ending in 2010.
“That could have been a really good project,” says Spratlin, who got to explore several different aspects of what it takes to get a golf course project up and running. “It was an experience I wouldn’t trade.”
Spratlin said he learned a lot at Blue Ridge, but wound up again having to look for work after the project came to a halt. He says he considered looking outside the golf industry, but in his mid 40s with a career spent entirely in golf, Spratlin decided to continue doing what he has done since his brief effort to compete professionally after playing his college golf at Columbus College.
After the Blue Ridge project was abandoned, Spratlin joined the staff at Georgia Golf Center, spending a year-and-a-half teaching out of the Roswell facility, while continuing to play a full Georgia PGA schedule.
“I learned about the golf swing from working with Danny (Elkins) and Chris (Asbell) and got back into the habit of almost trying to play for a living.”
Spratlin enjoyed almost every aspect of working at Georgia Golf Center, but once he got over the feeling of being “mentally cooked” following his ultimately fruitless stretch at Blue Ridge, he pursued some head professional opportunities.
“I looked at some jobs in other states, but I wanted to stay at home,” Spratlin said. “I wanted to get out of Atlanta, but not out of Georgia.”
Spratlin found what he was looking for with the Currahee Club, which also encountered early difficulties, but after it opened, unlike Blue Ridge.
When Currahee opened almost a decade ago, there was considerable buzz in the Georgia golf community about its potential. But the amount of money spent just getting it and the surrounding development going (reportedly just over $100 million) plus the flagging economy sunk the project almost before it opened, and it eventually went into bankruptcy.
With long term support from the new ownership group plus strong capital backing, Spratlin foresees a bright future for Currahee, which sports one of the most impressive courses in the state with tremendous visual appeal.
Spratlin says he was looking for “a slower pace and lifestyle,” and somewhere were the schools “were not as big and the roads were not as crowded.”
With triplet teen-aged daughters, high school is a big factor in the Spratlin family. After one year at a large Forsyth County school, the smaller size of Stephens County HS is a better fit for the Spratlins, who are in the process of settling into their new home in Toccoa.
After the uncertainty of working at a facility that never opened, Spratlin is relieved to be at a club that has a bright future ahead of it after experiencing some early problems.
“Everybody here is on board with what we’re doing. I think I’ll be able to be here a long time.”