In the alphabetical listing of the players at this week’s PGA Championship, Sean McCarty is immediately after Hideki Matsuyama and immediately before Rory McIlroy.
Japan’s Matsuyama is 16th in the World Golf Rankings, Northern Ireland’s McIlroy sixth. And there is Solon’s McCarty, the club pro at Coralville’s Brown Deer Golf Club. He will represent Coralville and Iowa City, North Liberty and Solon, and his West Branch hometown Thursday at St. Louis’ Bellerive Country Club at one of golf’s four major championships.
A website called golfodds.com says McCarty is a 2,000-to-1 bet to win the tournament. So what? He already beat the odds to get this far.
In June, he tied for second in the PGA Professional Championship in Seaside, Calif. The top 20 out of the field of 312 accomplished club pros qualified to play in the PGA Championship with the McIlroys and Dustin Johnsons and Zach Johnsons of the world.
It was McCarty’s first Top 20 in seven appearances in the event.
“It was my bucket list item to get into the PGA,” McCarty said. “I knew my easiest way into another major was through the national club pro. I wanted to get it done.”
His first major was back in 2003 at the U.S. Open in Olympia Fields, Ill. He was 1-under-par through five holes in the first round and his name briefly surfaced on the leaderboard before finishing with an 8-over 78.
But he came back the next day with a 69. He made a 65-foot birdie putt on one hole, and chipped in from 40 yards for a birdie on another. Though he missed the 36-hole cut, he did have a better two-round score than eight major winners, including World Golf Hall of Fame inductees Nick Faldo, Tom Kite and Davis Love III.
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“I loved playing the U.S. Open,” McCarty said. “It was so much fun playing a major. It’s difficult, it’s challenging, humbling.”
He was 30 then. At 45, he broke through at this year’s PGA club pro national event in a big way.
“Hard to say,” Chad McCarty said when asked if his brother is playing the best golf of his career. “You’re looking at a 20-year span.”
Chad is a 13-time winner of the Iowa City Amateur. Like Sean, he is a former University of Iowa player. Chad caddied for Sean at last month’s PGA Tour John Deere Classic after Sean advanced (and made the cut) via a Monday qualifier.
“This year he’s definitely been consistent,” Chad said.
Consistency is Sean McCarty’s calling card. He has been the head pro at Brown Deer since 2000. He has been the PGA Iowa Section Player of the Year eight times in the last 11 years, and has a big lead in this year’s standings. His disposition on a golf course always seems steady.
But you don’t do all the winning he’s done around Iowa without passion and preparation.
“He’s working as hard as he did 20 years ago,” said his longtime coach, Mark Egly of Des Moines. “He’s so much better as a player than he was then. He’s worked on every aspect of his game.”
McCarty’s parents bought Greenview Golf Course (now Cedars Edge) in West Branch when he was 3. He was the Class 2A medalist at the boys’ state championships from 1989 to 1991. He and Chad helped West Branch to team titles those three years. Chad made it four the following year.
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As a freshman at Iowa in 1992, Sean played for the Hawkeyes’ only Big Ten championship men’s golf team. He earned All-American status as a senior.
So he’s been around Johnson and Cedar counties a long time and has amassed a lot of friends and fans in the area. Many will drive to St. Louis this week to support him.
It’s not like this is any sort of last hurrah, however. McCarty has said he hopes he can make a run at playing on the PGA Champions Tour for players 50 and older when he’s eligible. Vince India, a pro golfer and also a former Hawkeye, recently said “I expect to see him on the Champions Tour.”
Expectations of success are internal when you’re a 2,000-to-1 shot. Of the 140 club pros to compete over the last seven PGA Championships, only two made the 36-hole cut. None have finished in the top 20 since 1990.
Again, so what? There are victories of all sorts. Getting to the PGA is a big win for McCarty. Now it’s time for him to let his still-powerful driver rip.
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