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Joe Plecker’s personal approach to teaching earns him Master Professional status from PGA

Joe Plecker of The Elkridge Club has been selected as a Master Professional by the PGA of America. (Baltimore Sun video)

Barbara Plecker knew that her son Joe was going to be a golf pro when he was in high school.

She recalled a round of golf she played with her then-17-year-old son and her parents at Longview Golf Course in Timonium.

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"I am such a hacker," his mother said. "I hit a ridiculous shot on this one hole and it went into a trash can and everybody was laughing. We got to the next hole and Joe looked at me and said, 'This is not a joke. This is my life.' I said, 'I'm so sorry.' He said, 'That's OK, you only do what you can do.'"

In some ways, that was the first golf lesson Joe Plecker ever gave.

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A little more than a quarter-century later, Plecker's abilities as a golf teacher have been recognized as he earned Master Professional status from the PGA of America this year.

The director of instruction at The Elkridge Club the past three years after a decade teaching at Baltimore Country Club, Plecker will be inducted during a luncheon at the PGA's Merchandise Show in January in Orlando.

Plecker, 44, will now be one of 358 to be part of what his father, Coleman, called "a little fraternity within a bigger fraternity" of some 27,000 PGA of America club professionals.

Navy grad Billy Hurley III won Sunday's golf tournament at Congressional. Other Midshipmen say it's a big boost for the athletics program.

The younger Plecker's achievement didn't come as a surprise to his 70-year-old father, a former longtime pro at Manor Country Club in Rockville who earned similar recognition from the PGA of America several years ago.

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"I think Joe has an innate talent to see things, he's very visual," said Coleman Plecker, who still gives lessons at an executive course near his retirement home in Venice, Fla. "I think Joe learned very early on that you can't make somebody swing like somebody else. A lot of times a teacher gets involved in trying to make every student look the same. Joe understands the important part of getting a person to hit the ball in a way they can repeat it."

Joe Plecker recalled the advice he received from the late Bill Strausbaugh Jr., a longtime Washington area pro at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, shortly after getting into the business 20 years ago as he came to the realization that he wouldn't be playing golf for a living.

"When I told him I wanted to teach golf for a living, he looked me dead in the eye and said, 'Joe, a great teacher can teach anybody,'" said Plecker, who as a college player helped Seton Hall win a Big East championship. "I've always tried to remember that, to not become specialized with just one type of player.

"I try to teach every player, every level, every skill from brand-new beginner golfers to advanced competitive golfers. I really feel like my philosophy of coaching, getting to know the player and their goals and why they're coming for help has made it more of a relationship."

Two of his students, Lou Baker and Mackenzie Rice, showed how much Plecker's teaching and coaching have helped their game.

The 15-year-old Baker won his age division in the state junior tournament as well as the prestigious Bobby Bowers tournament this summer. Rice, a junior at Towson who is from Barrie, Ontario, finished second in the women's state amateur held at Manor.

While the process with Baker is years in the making — "When I first started teaching Lou at BCC, I had to tilt my head down to shake his hand and now I tilt my head back" — the results with Rice have been almost immediate. He began teaching her last fall after he was recommended by some teammates.

Rice said Plecker has made changes to "the release pattern through the golf ball" that has helped create more power off the tee and consistency with her approach shots on the fairways.

It has enabled Rice to drive the ball farther and hit more greens in regulation, eliminating her need to scramble for pars and helping her to make more birdies.

"Last year I was averaging about seven to eight greens in regulation and now I would average at least 10," she said. "It sounds like a small number, but that saves about two or three shots a round. It's huge."

Sean Bosdosh, a 24-year old professional from Holly Hills Country Club in Ijamsville, shot a three-under-par 69 on Monday and 65 on Tuesday before finishing 13 under with a 69 Wednesday.

Rice, who had never worked with a teacher on a regular basis before, said she likes Plecker's personalized approach.

"He never compares your swing to anybody else's," Rice said. "He teaches a lot through your body and your flexibility and your ability. He really works with each student building a golf swing that is technically sound for their capabilities athletically."

That's what Plecker wrote in a paper in the early stages of the process to become a Master Professional and later outlined in a presentation to a panel of some 250 to 300 instructors, all of whom have already achieved that stature.

"I guess it's more of a dissertation than anything. ... I haven't written a paper that long since I was in college," said Plecker.

Candidates to become a Master Professional are asked to give a lesson to someone they have never met, with the panel watching. Plecker's basic philosophy is clear to those who have taken a lesson from him or watched him with his students.

It goes back to what Barbara Plecker saw watching her son's career develop.

"He always wants them to hit that ball better and have a happier day on the golf course," his mother said.

After one day at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Harford County, four golfers sit atop the leaderboard at the Maryland Open championship.

Plecker and his father are not the only golf pros in the family. Beth Plecker, a year older than her brother, grew up to become a teaching pro at The Suburban Club, where she met and later married fellow pro Bob Sedlak, who is now at a club in Pennsylvania.

Holiday dinners with the Pleckers typically revolve around the game.

"You've got a whole bunch of golf pros using their knives to demonstrate a golf grip or talk about the golf swing," said Joe Plecker.

Said his father, "Our family get-togethers the question is 'What did you hit on the 13th hole for your second shot?'"

While Plecker is looking forward to his induction as a Master Professional, he doesn't believe he knows everything there is about teaching the game.

"It's hard to believe I've been teaching for 20 years and I'm in no way done, like I figured it all out and I'm going to stop learning," he said. "It was a great way to take an extra step to be a better teacher and a better coach and become more involved in the PGA as well."

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