It wasn’t the way Danny Balin imagined he would be playing in his seventh PGA Championship and first U.S. Open, but considering the situation, he’ll take it.
When the PGA Professional Championship in Austin, Texas, later this month was canceled on Monday because of COVID-19 concerns, that brought into play exemption categories that would determine parts of the fields for both the PGA in August in San Francisco and the Open at Winged Foot in September.
Balin, the head pro at the Fresh Meadow Country Club in Lake Success, just happened to fall into those exemptions. The PGA of America, the national club professional organization, exempts the top 20 club pros in their national tournament into the PGA Championship. The USGA, which moved the U.S. Open from June to September with an all-exempt field, was going to take the top three club pros from the Austin event.
When it was canceled, the PGA and the USGA reverted to the 2019 PGA Professional of the Year standings. Balin was third in those standings, earning him a spot in two of the three majors scheduled to be played this year. Jason Caron, head pro at the Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, was 19th in the standings and earned a PGA spot.
The ironic thing is that Balin, who last year finished second in the club pro championship, probably would not have gone to Austin based on New York State regulations that require people traveling from Texas, a COVID-19 hotspot, to quarantine for two weeks.
“I probably would not have gone to compete based on our new state orders from the governor,” said Balin of the tournament that had been moved from March to July. “And having to be away from work for three weeks in July during our busiest month just probably wasn’t going to fly. As a golf professional in the middle of July in New York, I couldn’t take that much time off of work.”
There is no denying his good fortune, though.
“I don’t even know what the word is, but it is fortunate that it got canceled,” Balin said. “I’m on the good side of that, but it’s unfortunate because it affects the other 311 guys that want to play for the PGA of America’s national championship.”
At this point, the Open at Winged Foot is still on the schedule, and it couldn’t be any more convenient to Balin.
“To be able to play in an Open is amazing,” said Balin, who played in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last May. “Of course I would want to qualify on my own for that, but to play in the U.S. Open in my backyard—I Iive in White Plains, 10 minutes away from Winged Foot.”
But now Balin and Caron face another COVID-19 dilemma. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has added California to the list of hotspots that require two weeks of quarantine for visitors from the state.
“That could become a problem,” said Caron, who finished fourth in the club pro championship last year. “I didn’t realize they were going to quarantine us for two weeks when we got home. They will figure out something for us, that’s for sure.”
“I have to talk to my board and my president and see what they think and see where we go from there,” Balin said. “I imagine the PGA of America, running the championship, might have something to say.”
A PGA spokesperson said the organization is looking into the issue.
For now, Balin and Caron will be dealing with significant greater levels of play at their clubs this summer, trying to get in a little practice and hope for the best.
Jorge Calvo, Muttontown No. 16, 161 yards, 7-iron
Norman Fastenberg, The Greens No. 16, 115 yards, 9-iron
Donald Fiore, West Sayville GC No. 17, 111 yards, 9-iron
Frances Lilling, The Greens No. 17, 108 yards, 4-hybrid
Frank Magro, Bethpage Red No. 12, 165 yards, 6-iron
Kevin Raftery, Bay Park No. 7, 130 yards, 7-iron
Jerry Rothman, Pine Ridge No. 7, 110 yards, 8-iron
Paul Sievers, Bethpage Red No. 12, 175 yards, 5-iron
Robert Yannucci, Spring Lake No. 16, 150 yards, 6-iron