Danny Balin has qualified for the PGA Championship six times, most recently for last month’s event at Harding Park in San Francisco. And all six times he’s failed to make the cut.
This week, Balin, the head pro at Fresh Meadow Country Club on Long Island and the only Met-Area club pro in the field, will be gunning to make a US Open cut at Winged Foot, a course he estimates he’s played 50 to 60 times.
The thought of making the cut at a major championship in his backyard — Balin lives in White Plains — is tantalizing to him.
“It would be like a celebration of my career, to represent all the clubs that I’ve worked for and all the members that I have been around,’’ the 38-year-old Balin told The Post. “Yeah, I was born in Maryland, but I’ve been here in Westchester for 17 years now, so this is my home. I’ve created a home here for myself. To be able to do it with everybody watching would just be awesome.’’
Monday and Tuesday, Balin has the distinction of having Michael O’Keefe, the actor who played Danny Noonan in “Caddychack,’’ carry his bag during practice rounds. They went off the back nine Monday morning for some practice, with O’Keefe donning a red “Bushwood’’ cap, and they’ll will do it again Tuesday before Balin’s tournament caddie takes over.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Balin was automatically qualified for both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open. In fact, he got word of being exempt into the two majors about a day apart with calls from the PGA of America and the USGA.
Both tournaments took the top three players from the 2019 PGA Club Pro Player of the Year list, because the 2020 season had been canceled by the pandemic.
“I feel like I played well in 2019 and earned my way, but I got lucky to be able to be granted an exemption into the U.S. Open,’’ he said.
Balin, for several reasons, believes he has a better chance to succeed this week than he did at Harding Park, a course he’d never played. At that time, Balin said he was so busy with work at Fresh Meadow that he had little time to play and prepare for the PGA.
“The golf course was really difficult,’’ Balin said of Harding Park. “I hadn’t had a lot of time to practice and I shot 74-76. I know I missed the cut, but given the fact that I hadn’t practiced a lot and hadn’t played a lot, I was pretty happy with that. I’m fine with how I played. It was a little bit more of a vacation given the pandemic situation we’ve had going on.
“The U.S. Open, not that I’m taking it more seriously, but I’m trying to prepare a little bit more. Work at the club slowed down a little bit, so it gave me time to focus on myself and my game to get ready.’’
Balin, too, believes the home-game factor can do nothing but benefit him.
“It’s great being able to come home and see my daughter and my fiancée, have home-cooked meals, sleep in my own bed,’’ he said. “The comfortability of that really helps your confidence. Also, being comfortable with the golf course helps. I’ve played 50 or 60 rounds on the golf course, so it’s not something new to me. So being so comfortable with the golf course and having familiarity of Winged Foot is going to be great.
“It’s going to be very special, knowing Winged Foot, knowing a lot of the members there, being good friends with Mike Gilmore, the head pro.’’
“Always my expectations are to make the cut, but at Winged Foot if I can just drive the ball straight … it’s key to put the driver in the fairway,’’ Balin said. “If I can just hit it straight like I normally do, I think I’ll have a chance to be around on the weekend. And — who knows? — maybe something better.’’