GlenArbor’s Rob Labritz medals at PGA Tour Champions after Q school
BEDFORD HILLS – Rob Labritz has been dreaming out loud for the better part of a decade.
Somewhere in the conversations that followed each win here in the Met Section was a PGA Tour Champions mention. He won a lot, so it was no secret how much that distant goal was motivating GlenArbor’s longtime director of golf.
“I’ve always been focused on the big picture,” Labritz said.
The 50-year-old resident of Pound Ridge has been a club professional for 30 years. He made a number of runs at the regular tour, but only flirted with the final stage.
“I’d say the chase probably goes back to Rob finishing as low club pro at Whistling Straits in 2010,” GlenArbor president Morgan Gregory said. “The guy is such a dreamer, but Rob is relentless in his execution. The priorities were always faith and family and that dream.”
Qualifying for the Champions Tour is typically a pipe dream for club professionals. The circuit provides just five full exemptions each year in order to protect marquee players from years gone by who still have drawing power.
“I remember being like, ‘Yeah, sure Rob,’ ” Gregory added. “I’m sure I had a smile on my face, ‘We’ll support you eight or nine years from now. Keep doing what you’re doing. Be a great ambassador for the club, a great pro for the membership. We all believe.’ I would say candidly, the last two or three years, there was kind of that twinkle in his eye, like, ‘Hey, I’m going to be 50 soon and I’m going to go do this.’ ”
Labritz was eligible to qualify a year ago, but the pandemic cancelled Q school so he waited patiently and quickly took up residence atop the leaderboard at TPC Tampa Bay. He entered the final round on Dec. 11 one shot off the lead.
“I was a mess the night before,” he said. “I was nervous. I was excited. I was scared.”
A number of conversations took place before Labritz powered off.
He’s no stranger to competition or winning so there was no panic. Labritz has played in the PGA Championship eight times, finishing as the low club professional twice. He’s a three-time Metropolitan PGA Player of the Year. Labritz has won three New York State Open titles at Bethpage State Park’s famed Black Course.
A long-distance pep talk from son Mathias, a freshman at LSU, helped put Labritz at ease.
“It was just, ‘Dad, you’ve been playing golf with me since I was 3 years old. You’ve been working for this a long time. Go out and play your game … and smile.’ He was like. ‘Get his done. You’re right there.’ I went out there and had a good time. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous on every shot, but I was in control of my emotions.”
Labritz closed with a bogey-free 64, the best round of the day, posting a 17-under total of 267 and leaving runners-up Thongchai Jaidee and David Branshaw three shots in his wake.
“I mean, wow,” he said. “Dream come true. I had my eye on the prize all of those years. I always talked about it. And it came true.”
Labritz could not hold or hide the inevitable tears after the scorecard was triple-checked and signed. He still gets choked up thinking about the moment his life changed.
“Now that I’m on the other side of it, I don’t want to say that I’m relieved, but it almost feels like a weight has been lifted off me,” he said.
Tension was high at GlenArbor every step of the way, too.
“I think we had a text chain of like 60 members,” Gregory said. “Even in the shop that day, we’re all wondering how this works, how many exemptions are there? I had no clue. When has anyone ever followed a Champions Tour qualifier? We’re all Googling stuff and trying to figure it out while hitting refresh 28,000 times on the live scoreboard because that’s all we had to look at.
“We work together, but Rob is obviously a friend. I broke down in tears when he won, so it was pretty special, pretty special.”
It’s a true underdog story that played on social media across the country.
“The PGA Tour Champions is arguably the most difficult professional golf tour to qualify for,” Metropolitan PGA executive director Jeff Voorheis said. “With many invitations reserved based on PGA Tour performance and only 35 prior year money list exemptions, the qualifying stages become the equivalent of a regular-season event with only five spots available. Though not surprising for those who know Rob’s game and his practice, fitness and nutrition habits, this is an incredible accomplishment for any player, let alone one with a busy, full-time club professional job.”
Soon after Labritz called home to share the moment with his wife, Kerry, the celebration got under way.
“Being a club pro is not easy,” Gregory said. “You get pulled in a lot of directions so Kerry, the understanding and support that she provides, goes a long way because Rob is so family-oriented.”
The couple also has two daughters, 8-year-old Ryan and 11-month-old Logan.
“I’ve watched the aftermath several times and I’m still emotional,” Labritz said. “I waited a long time for that moment. Some people never get that chance. I’m so happy to come out on the other side as a PGA Tour Champions member.”
The remainder of that memorable day is kind of a blur.
“I had college buddies who came in. I had members who came up. We all went out there in Tampa and hit it pretty hard,” said Labritz, who spent parts of two semesters at Central Connecticut State, admittedly hitting more golf balls than books. “There were a few drinks. Every couple of minutes I’d stand up and go, ‘Woo hoo!’ I came home Saturday to the family and turned my phone off, and when I turned it on a couple of days later, I saw everything on social media, which was super cool. I’m still trying to get back to everyone who reached out. Every time I respond to a text, I get two more, but I’ll get to everyone. It might take a month, but I’ll get to everyone.”
There will be more family time over the holidays. On Jan. 6, he is getting on a plane to Florida with longtime caddie, Todd Luigi, with plans to play in three PGA Winter Series events along with pro-member tournaments at Isleworth and Bonita Bay.
“I have an outing to do, a memorial tournament for the daughter of one of my best friends, and that will lead my right into the week of Chubb Classic,” Labritz said of his Feb. 14 debut.
Living the dream will require next-level understanding and juggling.
“My off weeks in the spring, summer and fall I plan on coming back to the club and teaching a little bit and going to staff meetings,” he said. “This club is part of my fabric so I’m never going to let that go. I’ll be doing my job, as well. I’m going to spend more time working out. I’m going to spend more time meditating and sharpening this vision. I’m going to spend a lot more time working on my game. And on the off weeks, I don’t want to change my life, so I’ll be here. I need that balance.
“I’m going to be traveling a lot more. Kerry will be here with them during school and then they will come out on the road, which I think is going to be a lot of fun.”
Confidence is not going to be an issue.
“I know for a fact that I’ve been working on the right things over the past 10 or 12 years with all of my coaches,” Labritz said. “I’m getting better. I’m improving. The way I played in Q school gave me a lot of confidence going into the early part of the season. I didn’t have any three putts. My short game has come so far. I probably spend 80 percent of my practice time working from 100 yards in. My length, I’m still hitting the ball more than 300 yards. The speed is there. I’ll get into the gym and train for some extra speed before February and get into the best shape of my life, so I’ll be good to go.
“I know I can win out there. I know it.”
It had to be said, out loud, on the record.
“When you look at Rob’s history, when he’s got a shot at something, he performs,” Gregory said. “I think he’s going to do great out there. Nobody was amazed when Rob medaled at Q school. We all just smiled at each other. We knew he could do it. He’s done it forever.”
Mike Dougherty covers boys soccer, boys lacrosse, girls basketball and golf for The Journal News/lohud.com. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd, @lohudlacrosse, @lohudhoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.