He's playing with the big boys now

In the weeks after he qualified for his first PGA Championship, The Elkridge Club's director of instruction, David Hutsell, received all kinds of advice from some of his fellow club pros.

A few who had played in the PGA told Hutsell to make a visit to Whistling Straits well in advance of the tournament.

"They told me it would take away the wow factor," said Hutsell, who recently went out to Kohler, Wis., for a couple of practice rounds. "It's enough to try to play the golf course, but with a tournament of this magnitude, there's a lot more going on than at a section event."

Hutsell found that out nearly from the moment he arrived this week. How often do you see Tiger Woods standing a few yards away whacking practice shots on the range, as happened when Hutsell showed up a little past 6a.m. Monday?

Even with Woods' next-to-last finish Sunday in Akron, Ohio, Hutsell wasn't about to offer any swing tips.

"He was doing his thing and I was doing mine," Hutsell said Tuesday after finishing a practice round with former PGA champion Mark Brooks.

Patty Hutsell said that it takes a lot to get her husband excited, especially on the golf course.

"Maybe it comes from when he played baseball," she said, "but it's hard to ruffle his feathers."

A college baseball player at UMBC and Towson whose career was cut short by a shoulder injury, Hutsell is about to take his golf career to its pinnacle when he tees it up today. It will be his first major professional championship.

Asked what his goal is for the week, Hutsell, who qualified by finishing tied for sixth at the PGA of America's Club Professional Championship in June, said: "I don't think it's too far-fetched to make the cut. In a field of 140, 150 players, you only need to beat half of them in order to do that. I don't think it's out of reach."

Hutsell, who will turn 40 this month, remembers the first time he played in a regular PGA Tour event. He was 31, an assistant pro at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, when he qualified for the 2000 Kemper Open at the nearby Tournament Players Club at Avenel.

"At the beginning of the week I hit a lot of balls, more balls than I normally would," Hutsell recalled recently. "By the time the tournament began, I was gassed."

Hutsell missed the cut, but the lesson learned that week helped him when he qualified again for the Kemper two years later. That time, Hutsell made the cut with rounds of 72 and 68, but tired on the weekend and finished last.

Former Woodholme pro Wayne DeFrancesco, now the head pro at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, said that playing in a regular PGA Tour event, let alone a major championship, is much different from a local or even national event for club pros.

"It's a big thrill, seeing the guys you watch on television," said DeFrancesco, who has played in the PGA Championship five times, the U.S. Open once and recently played in his first two Senior majors. "But the thing that really stands out is the difficulty of the course. You can play well and shoot 150" for two rounds.

DeFrancesco made the cut in his first PGA Championship, at Riviera County Club in 1995, by making a par on his final hole of the second round.

"It's one of the best things that ever happened to me," DeFrancesco said. "It's one of those things that I'll remember the rest of my life."

Hutsell, who played some golf growing up in Havre de Grace "when I wasn't playing baseball and basketball," long ago abandoned the dream of playing golf for a living. After college, he tried a few of the mini-tours without much success and started working his way up as a club pro, landing at The Elkridge Club on North Charles Street six years ago.

He had come close to qualifying for the PGA Championship once before, losing in a playoff at the club pro championship in 2001, when DeFrancesco won. This year, at a resort in French Lick, Ind., Hutsell was tied for 14th after the third of four rounds. The top 20 qualify for the PGA Championship.

"I knew if I shot anywhere near even par, I'd have a good chance," said Hutsell, who finished a round of 70 with back-to-back birdies to qualify easily.

While getting his swing tweaked recently by longtime teacher Don Trahan, Hutsell received another piece of advice for his trip to Whistling Straits.

"I told him that when he got out there [for practice rounds two weeks ago], ask for the best local caddie to hire," Trahan said last week. "He should do that instead of taking a friend out there; it could be worth a stroke a round or more."

Trahan, whose son D.J. plays the PGA Tour and made it into the PGA Championship as an alternate, also told Hutsell the mindset he should take with him to the first tee today.

"I told him that he's a club pro going against guys who play golf for a living, so you're behind the 8-ball right away. To take the pressure off, I told him that these guys are going to be embarrassed if they get beat by a club pro," Trahan said.

Hutsell, who took his wife and their 4-year-old daughter, Madeleine, with him to Wisconsin this week, said that he would appreciate his accomplishment more now than he might have when he was younger.

"It's an honor to be one of the 20players to represent the PGA of America's professionals that go to work every day and work in the business rather than playing golf," Hutsell said. "It's an opportunity that comes along only once a year, not even every year. I've come close before and to finally get there is very exciting."


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