Club pro’s dream come true at Arnold Palmer Invitational


Orlando, Fla. – Golf is a funny, weird game.

Colin Morikawa, a two-time major championship winner who is ranked 10th in the world, missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and didn’t even have a tee time Saturday at Bay Hill. Neither did former US Open winner and Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama.

Jon Rahm, the No. 1-ranked player in the world and the hottest player on the planet with five wins over the past nine months, shot a second straight 76 on Saturday.

Then there’s Greg Koch, a 37-year-old club pro from Orlando, where he grew up. He teed off at Bay Hill Saturday, making his first PGA Tour cut in his sixth attempt, and he shot the same score as Rahm.

The coach, with his younger brother Matt caddying for him, made the cut in unusual and tense circumstances.

When second-round play was suspended due to darkness on Friday, Koch, who has been the director of operations at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes, 10 miles southeast of Bay Hill, was one of two players who finished their rounds. had not completed

Koch had hit his tee shot to the left fairway on the difficult par-4 ninth hole and was 215 yards from the pin when play was halted. He needed par to make the cut, which was 2-over as of Friday evening. Had he birdied the hole, he would have moved the cutline to 1-over and eliminated seven players from the tournament.

Greg Koch grew up in Orlando and is the head of education at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes, 10 miles from Bay Hill.
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That is why he had to sleep on Friday night.

“Oh, it was a terrible night,” the coach said. “I knew it was going to be a rough night. I’m not really good at sleeping but I have so many nerves and so much on my mind. So, I stayed up all night. I think I got two hours of sleep.”

Coach was back on the course at 7 a.m. to finish that ninth hole, try to make par and make his first PGA Tour cut.

“Super-nervous,” the coach said of facing him Saturday morning. “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this kind of pressure.”

He compared the nerves to when he qualified for the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, needing a short putt to make the field.

“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been over that putt, knowing I had to make a 3 ¹/₂-footer where if I didn’t make it, I’d have to live with it forever,” he said. remembered . “It was similar to those nerves.”

Greg Koch (left) poses for a picture with his brother Matt, who is also his caddy.
Greg Koch (left) poses for a picture with his brother Matt, who is also his caddy.
Mark Cannizzaro

Koch tried to “scoot” a 5-iron onto the green on his second shot at No. 9 and it landed short of the green in front of the left bunker, leaving him with a tricky chip and then a- The thigh was needed. For the equivalent

Fortunately for the coach, who was already stressed and operating on two hours of sleep, he was unaware of the situation in which one birdie would have eliminated seven players.

“I didn’t know there were people on the bubble. I didn’t know I could get people out,” the coach said. “I was too focused on what I had to do and about it. It would have been terrible if that had happened because those guys would have lost the opportunity to play on the weekend because of a club pro.”

The coach could only focus on his vision.

“I’m just trying to get myself into the weekend and I don’t really care what everybody else is doing,” he said. “I knew what I needed to do. I was really focused on getting that ball there on that third shot and then making the putt and getting a chance to play on the weekend.”

So, he did.

This guarantees the coach a check of at least $43,000, which is the payout for last place in the tournament among players who make the cut.

For as many years as he can count, Koch has come to this tournament, stood outside the ropes, marveled at the star players and imagined himself competing inside those ropes as one of them.

“My dad used to bring us here and we’d all come out and see Mr. Palmer, Jack Nicklaus the Tiger. [Woods],” he said. “Being from Orlando and being here first with this amazing area is really special. It’s like my US Open. It’s always been a dream, being out there as kids watching. That was it. This is the pinnacle for me.”

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