Mabee, Hillman set for PGA Professional National Championship

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A pair of Berkshire County head professionals, the Country Club of Pittsfield's Eric Mabee and Taconic Golf Club's Josh Hillman, will tee it up today against the best club professionals in the country when the PGA Professional National Championship begins in Sunriver, Ore.

Mabee, who made the cut in last year's championship, qualified for this week's tournament by capturing last summer's Northeast New York PGA Section Championship at Ballston Spa in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Hillman finished third in that event and was fortunate enough to get into this week's event as an alternate.

It hasn't taken long for Hillman to see that the two courses to be used at Sunriver — the Crosswater and Meadows — are far different than the 6,310-yard track at Ballston Spa. He played a practice round Friday at Crosswater, which will be used for three of the four rounds, and was set to play at the Meadows on Saturday afternoon.

"You walk up to every tee and see the same signs that they use for the the PGA Championship and see there is nothing under 460 yards (on the par-4 holes)," the 39-year-old Hillman said of the Crossover layout. "We are at 4,200 feet altitude, though, so it didn't feel crazy long. I'm getting about 10 or 15 yards of added distance off the tee."

That said, the course will still be playing at more than 7,400 yards, so altitude or not, it's not like most of the courses pros play in the NENY section events.

"The fairways are fairly generous and the greens are very fast," he said. "You are going to have to be at the top of your game to do well here," Hillman said.

Hillman, who is enjoying the sites in a beautiful inland portion of Oregon with his wife Angie and son Jacob, says the Meadows is shorter (a little over 6,900 yards), but he has been told the rough will be deeper than at the Crosswater.

Mabee, meanwhile, has proven in his short time in the NENY section that he is an elite player and will look to build on his strong start in last year's tournament at Turning Stone Resort (N.Y.) while forgetting the finish.

The 33-year-old was at even-par 144 after 36 holes after making six birdies during his 4-under 68 in the second round. He turned in 2-under 34 in the third round to briefly get into contention before the wheels came off. He finished at 8-over 296.

"I struggled over the final 27 holes, but I played as well as anybody over the first 45 holes," he said.

Mabee, who finished second to Scott Berliner in this spring's NENY Storke Play Championship and third in a recent best-ball event with Hillman, said prior to departing for Oregon that he feels good about where his game is at.

"If I hit fairways and make some putts, I am tough to beat," Mabee said. "My putting has been pretty good."

"He doesn't have holes in his game, but I was most impressed with his putting," Hillman said after partnering with Mabee.

Though Mabee has experience on this big stage, heading west will be something new. But he'll have a steady hand at his side.

"I've never been further west than Fargo (N.D.)," he said. "I'm going to be have my brother, Matt, on my bag. He caddied for me last year despite living in Wisconsin. He knows me better than anyone."

There is plenty at stake besides money — the purse is a hefty $600,000 for club pros, who seldom play for that kind of cash — with the top 20 finishers earning spots in this year's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte, N.C.

While Mabee wasn't thrilled with his finish last year, just making the cut at this tournament is a major accomplishment when you consider the field will be trimmed from 312 to 90 and ties after 36 holes and to 70 and ties after the third round.

Another possible bonus is getting some air time — the Golf Channel will have coverage from the Crossings course all four days starting today from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Hillman will tee off for the first round at 11:05 Eastern time on the Meadows course while Mabee will start 15 minutes later on the Crossings course.


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