‘Pretty amazing’: This club pro’s PGA Championship got off to the best start imaginable
TULSA, Okla. — Jesse Mueller is not like most golfers in the field at the 104th PGA Championship.
In lieu of company logos dotting his ensemble, Mueller’s garb features the insignia of Grand Canyon University, where he’s a volunteer assistant coach. He doesn’t have a staff bag, either. Instead, his clubs are housed in a black and white Ping stand bag, schlepped around the course by his wife/caddie.
Mueller doesn’t bury his nose in a yardage book when he needs a number; he just grabs his rangefinder and shoots the flag himself. (Thanks to PGA rules, this is totally legal.) And he doesn’t play tournaments for millions of dollars each week. As a club pro at GCU Golf Course, Mueller’s days are filled with administrative tasks and teaching.
Those differences didn’t mean a damn thing when he teed it up in the 12:47 p.m. at Southern Hills, though. And shortly after he poked the ball down the fairway on the par-4 10th hole in his first PGA Championship start, Mueller had a moment better than anyone else’s on Day 1.
With just 102 yards into a front pin, Mueller lofted a wedge high into the Oklahoma sky. The ball landed on the green, grabbed the bentgrass putting surface and started working its way back toward the pin. It came to rest at the bottom of the cup.
“What a start to my first ever PGA Championship,” Mueller said. “Pretty amazing.”
The good vibes carried over for the remainder of the front nine. The reigning PGA Club Pro champion added a birdie at the 17th — sandwiched by two bogeys — to turn in one-under 34. The total bested the back nine score posted on Thursday by a number of the top players in the world, among them top-ranked Scottie Scheffler. Not a bad way to kick off your first PGA Championship.
Like every Cinderella, though, the clock eventually hits midnight. For Mueller, the strike of the clock came during a three-hole stretch on the front nine.
Still at one under for the day, Mueller arrived at the 5th hole inside the top 20 on the leaderboard. As great as the Mueller story was shaping up to be, though, reality had other ideas. A bogey on the par-5th was his first substantial mistake, and he compounded the error when he missed a short par putt at the par-3 6th. He added another bogey at the 7th, and an over-par round was assured. Mueller made pars on his final two holes — including a nifty up-and-down on the 9th — and signed for a two-over 72.
The 30-minute, three-bogey sequence turned out to be the difference between a good round and a great one. Such is life with golf at the highest level.
“I wish I could have been about 30 minutes back on my back side,” he said. “But overall I’ll take 72 out here.”