The PGA Championship begins next week, and if hes lucky, Kelly Mitchum will find time to play a few holes before he leaves. As one of Pinehurst Resorts lead teaching pros, he spends far more of his time helping other people get better, not himself.
Fortunately, Pinehursts summer classes and schools are more or less finished, and only a few private lessons stand between Mitchum and his departure for Kiawah on Sunday or Monday to make his fourth appearance at one of golfs majors.
We have a little bit of a break, Mitchum said. I just have individual stuff, so I should be able to build in some time between lessons to get out and play a little bit. Im just going to build in some time to do that.
Mitchum, 41, played his way into the PGA Championship for the third time by finishing tied for second at the PGA Professional National Championship in Seaside, Calif., in June. This is hardly unfamiliar territory for him, but it has been a while. He qualified for the U.S. Open in 1995, and played his way into the PGA in 2005 and 2006.
Over the past few years, though, the N.C. State graduate has taken a hands-on role in constructing a new house for his family of four, which meant taking a hands-off approach to his own golf game. The house complete, Mitchum has gone back to work on the course.
I poured a lot of energy into that part of it, Mitchum said. I had some other things in my life that I was more focused on than my golf game. I got through that, and now Ive kind of settled back into my normal routine. Overall, Ive just played better the last year and a half.
In California against the other club pros, Mitchum birdied the 18th hole on the final day to finish in a tie for second and comfortably secure his return to the PGA Championship. His four rounds were remarkably consistent 69-71-72-71 which has been the hallmark of his return to form.
The Ocean Course at Kiawah is a course Mitchum knows well, having played there many times in and out of competition. He shot a 67 there in the section championship last year, but that was at 6,700 yards. The PGA will have it set up at its full Ryder Cup length of 7,676 yards.
Its most difficult golf course Ive ever played and the wind is incredible, Mitchum said. Those are the two things pop out at me. Ive got some good memories out there, some good rounds underneath me. And a couple higher rounds, too.
The task ahead is difficult. Club pros get 20 spots in the PGA field, but none of them has cracked the top 30 since 1992. Four times in the past 15 years, the club pros were shut out completely on the weekend.
In 2005, Mitchum was well off the pace at Baltusrol, but a year later at Medinah was within six strokes of the cut, ahead of Bernhard Langer, Jerry Haas and Todd Hamilton, among others.
Back then, he was dominating Carolinas PGA Section events and playing the occasional PGA Tour tournament. Lately, his focus has been on others, whether building a home for his family or digging into his teaching responsibilities. For the next 10 days or so, hell have a chance to put the focus back on his own game, on one of golfs biggest stages.