The Arnold Palmer Invitational is a club professional’s dream come true
ORLANDO, Fla. – Golf is a fun and weird game.
Collin Morikawa, a two-time major championship winner and ranked 10th in the world, missed the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and didn’t even have playing time at Bay Hill on Saturday. Neither is former US Open winner and Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose and former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Jon Rahm, the world No. 1 and the hottest player on the planet over the past nine months with five wins in the stretch, shot his second consecutive 76 on Saturday.
Then there’s Greg Koch, the 37-year-old club pro in Orlando, where he grew up. He played Saturday at Bay Hill, his sixth straight PGA Tour first cut, and he tied for points with Rahm.
Koch, along with his younger brother Matt, cut it in unusual and stressful situations.
Koch, who was serving as an instructional leader at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes, 10 miles southeast of Bay Hill, was one of two players who did not complete their turn when second-round play was suspended due to darkness on Friday.
When play stopped, Koch hit a tee shot to the rough left on the par-4 difficult ninth hole and was 215 yards from the pin. He needed a par to make the cut, which was 2 on Friday night. Had he birdied, he would have moved the cut to 1 over and eliminated seven players from the tournament.
He must have slept on Friday night.
“Oh, it was a terrible night,” Koch said. “I knew it was going to be a tough night. I can’t sleep, but I have a lot of nerves and worries. That’s why I stayed up all night. I think I slept about two hours.”
Koch returned to the course at 7 a.m. to finish that ninth hole, make par and make his first cut on the PGA Tour.
“Very nervous,” Koch said of his Saturday morning meeting. “It’s been a long time since I felt this pressure.”
He compared the nerves to when he qualified for the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, needing a short putt to get onto the court.
“That was the most nervous moment I’ve ever had knowing I had to do 3¹/₂ feet or if I didn’t do it I’d live with it forever,” he recalled. . “It was like nerves.”
Koch tried to hit a 5-iron onto the green on his second shot on No. 9, which missed the green in front of the left bunker, leaving him with a difficult chip and then needing to roll. for.
Fortunately for Koch, who was stressed and working on two hours of sleep, he was unaware of the scenario in which the bird knocked out seven players.
“I didn’t know there were people in the bubble. “I didn’t know I was going to knock people out,” Koch said. “I was too focused on what I had to do and nervous about it. It would be terrible if that happened because these guys would have lost the opportunity to play on the weekend because of the club’s pro. »
Koch could only focus on his script.
“I try to go on weekends and not care what other people are doing,” he said. “I knew what to do. I was really focused on getting that ball close to the third shot and then hitting and giving it a chance to play on the day off.
He did so.
That guarantees Koch a check for at least $43,000, which tied for last among players who made the cut in the tournament.
For years, Koch has come to the tournament, stood outside the ropes, marveled at the star players, and fancied himself one of them. competition on these lines.
“My dad used to bring us here and we’d all go out and watch Mr. Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger (Woods),” he said. “Being from Orlando and being the first in this amazing place is really special. It’s like my US Open. It’s always been a dream since I saw it here as a kid. That’s it. is. That’s the pinnacle for me.”
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