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Windsor golf pro Jason Schmuhl gets chance at glory in PGA Championship

Not bad for a guy who hits a bucket of balls every now and then.

On Thursday morning, Windsor Golf Club pro Jason Schmuhl begins play alongside the glitterati of professional golf in the 100th PGA Championship, the final major championship of the season.

Schmuhl, one of 20 club pros in the $10.5 million tournament, qualified after his fourth-place finish in the PGA Professional Championship in June at Bayonet in Seaside.

Schmuhl tees off at 6:40 a.m. Thursday at Bellerive Golf Course outside St. Louis, 17 minutes after the star-studded trio of defending champion Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

Schmuhl, 46, acknowledges it’s “a pretty big deal,” but remains unruffled about the opportunity.

“I usually put too much pressure on myself,” he said via phone from St. Louis. “The reality is, I don’t think anybody expects me to make the cut. I’m playing against the best players in the world, people do it for a living and make millions doing so.”

He’s decided to just enjoy the experience.

“I always tell myself to have fun, be aggressive, play without fear. Hopefully that means two good rounds and making the cut.”

Schmuhl can also tell himself to play like he’s been there before - because he has.

He also qualified for the PGA Championship in 2010. Twice since, he missed out after playoffs for the 20th club pro spot.

“I definitely didn’t want to be in playoff again,” he said.

No worries this year, though. At Seaside, near Monterey, he shot a one-under 76-71-68-72 to place fourth and easily qualify.

After starting out slowly in the first round and a half, he hit a stride and ended with three consecutive birdies to get inside the cut line.

“That made me relax a little bit,” he said. “Once that was over, it was just kind of like, ‘Play golf.’”

That’s how he feels this week, he said, knowing it will be an almost-luxurious few days playing with the most talented players in the game.

“I’ve got some experience to go off of now,” he said.

That 2010 tournament “was my best golf experience ever,” he said. “It was such a cool week, getting treated like a tour player for the week. It was pretty neat.”

Though he ultimately missed the cut, Schmuhl said it was a treat to soak in the big-time professional golf atmosphere.

After qualifiying again this year, his phone blew up with messages of support.

“On the ride home I counted 88 texts congratulating me,” he said. “Everyone at Windsor is always super supportive and excited about me playing.”

As in the qualifying tournament, Schmuhl hopes to build momentum this week.

“I tend to gain confidence if I play well. Even if I get off to a good start in the first nine holes, my percentage of making cut goes way up. Even the first couple holes, I can feed off it and gain strength.”

Consistency has been a struggle for Schmuhl, a golf Hall of Fame member at both Analy High School and Santa Rosa Junior College.

“If I’m on, I can hit it as well as a lot of guys on tour,” he said. “I tend to hit a little crooked off the tee. But my iron game is good ... I hope I don’t miss a lot of greens.”

This year the course is set at 7,318 yards and plays as a par 70, with deep bunkers and wide greens.

Bellerive has some of the biggest greens in golf - more than 10,000 square feet, according to the PGA. Some pros arriving this week have said the course is dry and patchy in some places.

Schmuhl said last week he hoped to play several practice rounds before teeing off Thursday. He’s never played the course before - never even been to St. Louis.

After graduating from SRJC, Schmuhl played at USF and then turned pro. He has been the club pro at Windsor for 20 years - a job that doesn’t lend itself to playing as often as one might think.

“Time is tough,” he said. “I hit a bucket of balls every now and then, but I do not play recreational golf.”

Still, his game was sharp enough to qualify for one of golf’s majors.

“I’m always practicing in my mind,” he said.

With good friend Chris Rogers as his caddie, Schmuhl said he hopes to stay calm and positive this week.

“I’ve got nothing to lose, really,” he said. “And maybe a whole lot to win.”

The PGA Championship will be televised on CBS, TNT and PGA.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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