ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When the final Grand Slam event on the 2103 PGA Tour calendar gets under way today at Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y., most golf fans likely will be will be watching to see if Tiger Woods can win the PGA Championship for his 15th career major, or if Phil Mickelson can take his second straight.
Mixed into the powerhouse field, however, will be 20 PGA club professionals who recently went through an anxiety-filled qualifying process and now are looking to turn into the sport’s version of “Rocky.”
Among them is Albuquerque’s 30-year-old David Muttitt, a native of Rugby, England, who is the first assistant pro at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club in Sandia Park. He has a 12:10 MDT tee time with former UNM Lobo Charlie Beljan and Brendon de Jonge.
Muttitt won a sectional qualifier last September at Inn of the Mountain Gods in Ruidoso by four strokes with an 8-under 205. Then he shot a 1-under 286 at nationals in Sunriver, Ore., on June 24-27, finishing in a tie for ninth in a monster field of about 340 top pros, from which only the top 20 advanced.
“This (PGA Championship) is the toughest field in the world to make,” said Dana Lehner, executive director of Sun Country Golf House.
The PGA said four club pros from New Mexico have made the tournament previously – Joe McDermott, Don Klein, Ron Stelton and Jim Dickson.
And to think, sometimes Muttitt has to be coaxed by Paa-Ko Ridge head pro Bob Basham to leave his duties at the shop and get out and play. It happened in early June preceding the Socorro Open.
“It’s not that he doesn’t want to play; it’s that he’s so responsible in wanting to do his job,” Basham said. “He had just come back from (U.S.) Open qualifying and was tired. I told him to go.”
Muttitt finished tied for third in the event held June 5-8 with a three-round score of 74-69-66 – 209 on the par-72 layout.
“The last day he shot a 29 on the back nine,” Basham said. “When he hits a golf ball, it sounds different. He hits it so sweet. I’ve only heard two that sounded like that – (Lee) Trevino and Rich Beem.”
Beem, a Las Cruces native and NMSU alum, won the PGA Championship as a touring pro in 2002 at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.
Muttitt, who missed by two shots for a chance to be in a playoff for a U.S. Open berth, said he thrived in the pressure-packed national PGA qualifier in front of the Golf Channel cameras.
“It affected me in a good way,” he said of the national attention. “It helped me focus, I guess, not that I wasn’t focused. But those last 12 holes were my best 12 holes of the tournament. I had a great up-and-down on 8 from a plugged bunker, parred nine and then birdied 10 and 11.”
Then came a few queasy moments on No. 12.
“So, I’ve done all this good work to get back to what I thought was going to get in (the PGA Championship), which was even, and then I hit my tee shot out of bounds. I thought, ‘awwwwwww!’ And so I made about a 25-footer for bogey.
“That putt was a momentum builder, believe it or not. I then made a couple more birds, so I played the last nine in 3-under.”
Thus, he was two shots clear of six guys who finished tied for the final three berths, which were decided in a playoff.
Muttitt, who has been in the States since 2001 and in the Duke City the past 2 1/2 years, has been working overtime on his game in recent months, sometimes even dragging along his 3 1/2-year-old-son, Charlie.
“I’ve taken him around 18 a couple of times,” Muttitt said. “He’s hit some shots, putts, looks for fish.”
Basham said Muttitt’s game is solid.
“He’s the best assistant pro I’ve ever seen,” Basham said. “Putting is his best trait. He doesn’t have any weakness. And he’s not intimidated.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he finishes in the top 10. Most (club pros) attempt to just make the cut, but I told David, ‘Forget that.'”
Muttitt planned to arrive in Pittsford, an affluent suburb of Rochester, well before the tournament to get the lay of the land.
“I’ve never played in a major before, but I’m sure the fairways are tighter and the greens are firm and fast,” he said. “I really don’t know what to expect, which is why I’m going to get there early and give it time to sort of settle in.
“I’ll probably play two full rounds and a couple of nine holes. I’m not going to overdo it.”
His father, Norman, and sister, Sarah, will be in his gallery. There probably would have been quite a few more friends and family had his brother, Tim, not been getting married Friday in Cancun.
“I was supposed to be the best man, too,” Muttitt laughed. “Now he just won’t have one.”
Muttitt, meanwhile, said he’s not thinking about where he might finish in the most important weekend of his golf life, but he does have goals.
“I want to play as good as I can,” he said. “If I play fantastic, then the cut’s not going to be a problem.”
Basham doesn’t seem too upset knowing that if Muttitt does indeed finish, say, in the top 10, he probably won’t return to his Paa-Ko Ridge job any time soon, because he’ll be busy with some automatic exemptions on the PGA Tour.
“And if he won,”Basham said, “I can see him saying (on TV), ‘Oh, by the way, there’s an opening at Paa-Ko Ridge.'”