Caine Fitzgerald hopes to get together with his childhood friend Zach Johnson sometime prior to the PGA Championship, which is scheduled Aug. 8-11 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Fitzgerald earned a spot in the PGA field when he tied for 14th place at the PGA Professional National Championship in Sunriver, Ore. The top 20 finishers in the 72-hole Sunriver event that concluded June 27 qualified for the PGA tournament.
“I'm very excited,” said Fitzgerald. “It's quite an opportunity to play in a prestigious event.”
Fitzgerald, the Parker resident and assistant golf professional at Aurora's Murphy Creek Golf Couse, was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and played golf with Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion and winner of nine Professional Golf Tour tournaments.
“I grew up playing golf with Zach Johnson,” explained Fitzgerald. “I'm going to try to reach out to him, whether it be through the country club back home — the head pro there is a friend of mine. I may reach out to him through him or through other avenues. I'd like to play a practice round with him. Just to be around that and see how other people prepare, people that are much more comfortable in that environment, can only benefit me.”
Fitzgerald, the 2012 Colorado PGA Professional champion, has wrestled with different emotions about playing in next month's PGA.
“I've been struggling with that,” said Fitzgerald. “Initially my thought was it's going to be neat to go out and play in a PGA Tour event, a major. It's going to be fun. Then as I think about it more and more, why shouldn't I have a better mentality and think I'm going to go out and be successful? How I will handle it when I get there? It's always easy to say I'm not going to be nervous. Sometimes you don't get to pick and choose whether you are nervous or not.
“I've talked with Mike Northern, who is the head professional at Valley Hi in Colorado Springs. He's played in a couple PGAs and we talked about that exact thing. His goal is to play the weekend in a major. He's played in a couple PGAs and didn't get it done. That's when we started talking about how I didn't feel like I was going at it the right way. Initially I was like, `this is going to be fun.' But, you have to believe in yourself that you can get out there and be successful. He's been really supportive in doing that.”
Fitzgerald, the 39-year-old left-hander, finished with an even-par 287, which was good enough to be one of the Sunriver qualifiers. He was four-under after the first two rounds, carding a 71 and three-under 68. He finished with a 75 and 73 and plans to work on his game in the next few weeks.
“After Sunriver I felt pretty good,” said Fitzgerald. “I felt I played really well the first couple days and then I managed my game during the last two days. I've got a month to prepare for the PGA. Obviously there are some things I'd like to tighten up going into that event, and improve upon. That's the nature of golf.
“Life is what it is. I'm married and have a 2-year-old and 4-year old. I have a job and I do teach. I do play tournaments, intersectional events and in the Colorado section. My wife is extremely supportive of me practicing. I don't do it very often. I'm going to do it more. I'm going to prepare more for this event than I ever have for any event.”