It wasn’t the drive on No. 12 that led to a triple-bogey and might have blown him out of contention. It wasn’t even the twisting 33-foot make on the 18th green, the biggest putt of his life.
Nope. The defining golf shot of Rich Berberian Jr.’s final round at late June’s PGA Professional Championship, he said, was the tee ball on No. 13 after the dead-pull on 12 that he lost in heavy rough, leading to an 8 on his card.
Let’s set the scene: Berberian, 28, an assistant pro at Windham Country Club in Derry, N.H., started the final day at New York’s Turning Stone Resort at 8 under par, three strokes behind the leader, veteran pro Omar Uresti. After birdies on 7, 8 and 11, Berberian was all even with Uresti at 11-under. Then out jumped that triple-bogey on the 12th.
“It was probably the best thing that happened to me,” Berberian said of the big number. “It made me stop playing defensive golf.”
Instead of panic, Berberian felt clarity.
“I’ve never been so focused on what I had to do,” he said. “After that hole I was able to laugh it off and say to myself, well, let’s just keep going. I don’t care what the score is right now – let me just hit this tee shot.”
When Berberian stepped to the tee on 13, he’d already seen Mark Brown, the third member of the final group, hit an iron off the tee into the water.
Berberian considered an iron, too, but stuck with driver.
“If I’m gonna hit an iron in the water, I might as well hit a driver in the water,” he said. “So I got up there and aimed down the left side. I knew it was a hard hole, so I just swung at it and hit it right down the middle, and that was really what kick-started me. That was probably the hardest tee shot of the rest of the day.
“That was special.”
Berberian went on to birdie 13, and added a birdie on 16 to get to the last hole even with Uresti.
Berberian’s tee shot on 18 landed in rough right of the green. His chip slid by left of the hole, but he was able to get a read on the break for the comebacker.
As history records, he made the putt, while Uresti missed his birdie try that could have forced a playoff.
“It’s one of those things that you dream about making in a situation like that,” he said. “I mean, I’ve struggled to make dead straight five-footers with my buddies for a couple bucks.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way I putted.”
Berberian talked by phone last Saturday as he drove from his home in Hooksett, N.H., toward Springfield, N.J., where lies Baltusrol Golf Club, host of the 98th PGA Championship.
He said he hoped to get a practice round in that day, and play at least nine holes every day leading to his 12:45 p.m. (ET) tee time Thursday in his first PGA.
He’ll play the first two days with Shaun Micheel, the 2003 PGA champion who has mostly fallen off the golf planet in recent years, and loquacious veteran Rocco Mediate.
“I’m pretty quiet,” Berberian said. “It will be good to have Rocco chirping away. It will calm me down.”
Berberian said he can draw on his success at Turning Stone when he takes on the long and demanding Baltusrol.
“It wasn’t long ago when I was playing really well,” he said. “It’s more about confidence than anything. At this stage of the game I know I can play well. I know I can play with the guys I’m about to play with.
“It’s a matter of just believing it on the first tee Thursday.”