Qualifier Labritz Following Underdog Script at Saucon Valley

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 24, 2022 | BETHLEHEM, PA.

Qualifier Labritz Following Underdog Script at Saucon Valley

42nd U.S. Senior Open Home

Anyone who was at Saucon Valley Country Club 30 years ago fondly remembers a former club professional from Metropolitan New York producing a shocking U.S. Senior Open victory.

Could Rob Labritz follow that same script, minus the cigar and the RV? You can bet 1992 champion Larry Laoretti is rooting him on with a smile.

Through two rounds of the 42nd U.S. Senior Open Championship at Saucon Valley, Labritz, the director of golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, N.Y., and current PGA Tour Champions rookie, is just one stroke off the lead of 2019 champion Steve Stricker.

A second consecutive 2-under-par 69 on the 7,011-yard, par-71 Old Course positioned Labritz, a qualifier into this championship, for a potential life-changing moment.

Last December, the 51-year-old father of three fulfilled one dream when he punched what many believe is the hardest ticket in golf: a PGA Tour Champions card. Only five full-time cards are available each year on a circuit that features 78-player fields with no cuts. Labritz grinded through two stages of Q-School, capping his effort with a 7-under-par 64 in the final round at TPC Tampa Bay to garner medalist honors, three shots clear of Thongchai Jaidee and David Branshaw.

Labritz joined a short list of dreamers to accomplish the feat, guys such as former beer truck driver Mark Johnson, cattle farmer Robert Landers and Walt Zembriski, an ex-steel worker. Former club pros Laoretti, Dana Quigley, Jim Albus, Tom Wargo and driving-range owner Allen Doyle, a two-time U.S. Senior Open champion, are also past PGA Tour Champions Q-School survivors.

With two young daughters from his second marriage – Ryan (8) and Logan (17 months) – at home and a 19-year-old son (Matthias) at Louisiana State University, Labritz’s achievement was well celebrated. His tearful call home to wife, Kerry, that day went viral.

“If you guys saw the emotion that I had when I won Q-School, that dumped out,” said Labritz, a Connecticut native who has been working in golf since he was 19 when he dropped out of Central Connecticut State after one year. “It was a lot of years of just grinding. I'm [working] 14- to 18-hour days, and [my wife] would always have a hot meal for me when I got home at night.”

With Saucon Valley just a 2½-hour drive from his residence in Pound Ridge, N.Y., Labritz brought his entire family to the U.S. Senior Open. More friends were in the gallery, offering up plenty of noise, especially when he holed a short birdie putt on the par-4 eighth and closed the round with a nice two-putt par on the challenging 435-yard 18th.

Playing on the big stage isn’t new to Labritz, who has made 11 starts on PGA Tour Champions in 2022 with one top 10. During his club-pro days, he qualified for eight PGA Championships through the PGA Professional Championship, finishing as the low club pro in 2010 and 2019 at Whistling Straits and Bethpage Black, respectively. He’s won the New York State Open at Bethpage Black three times (2008, 2011, 2016), and he prepped for PGA Tour Champions Q-School last year by winning the Massachusetts Open. He’s also a past champion of the Westchester Open (2016) and Rhode Island Open (2019), and he’s been named the Player of the Year in the Metropolitan Section of the PGA three times.

But until this week, Labritz hadn’t set foot in a USGA championship since advancing to the quarterfinals of the 1988 U.S. Junior Amateur at Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Conn., where he lost to eventual champion Jason Widener. Labritz’s family had recently relocated from Southport, Conn., to Hobe Sound, Fla., so the homecoming was sweet. During the first slate of Q-School last fall, Labritz ran into Widener on the first tee.

“I go, Jason?” said Labritz. “He goes, ‘Yep, 4 and 3, Yale Golf Club, 1988.’ I was like, oh, here we go, but I got him that week.”

Except for Stricker, Labritz has topped all the big-name senior stars at the halfway point.

When he stepped to the podium to do his post-round interview on Friday, a huge smile washed across his face. His young daughters mingled about, the 17-month-old eventually seeking a pick-me-up from dad. Definitely a cool moment for one of the field’s underdogs.

Labritz knows the pressure will go up exponentially on the weekend when he plays in Saturday’s final pairing with Stricker.

By late Sunday afternoon, he might be hoisting something besides his daughter.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.