Special to the Journal
ORLANDO, Fla. – PGA of America President Allen Wronowski opened golf’s version of “Oscar Night,” in a video that highlighted his first telephone calls to PGA Professionals who had excelled in giving back to the game. Wronowski’s calls to the recipients, placed during last year’s PGA Championship, were revisited Thursday night before an audience of nearly 800 at the 2011 PGA of America Awards in Orlando, Fla.
The program, conducted in the Chapin Theater of the Orange County Convention Center, was viewed by more than 500 online.
“This is our night to pay tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to improve others through their hard work and passion,” said Wronowski, who teamed on stage with master of ceremonies and Emmy Award winning interviewer/essayist Jimmy Roberts of NBC Sports. “Our award recipients have made us proud and elevated our game even more.”
The program’s “anchor” awards went to PGA First Lady of Golf Mary Bea Porter-King of Kapaa, Hawaii, the undisputed pioneer of junior golf in her home state; and to PGA Golf Professional of the Year Don “Chip” Essig IV of Westfield, Ind., the PGA director of golf and owner of Hickory Stick Golf Club in Greenwood, Ind.
There were video tributes by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Jim Flick along with Michelle Wie, Dottie Pepper, USGA Executive Director Mike Davis and former USGA President Judy Bell.
Porter-King served on the USGA Girls’ Junior Committee from 1994-2000. Since 2001, she has been a member of the U.S. Junior Championship Committee. Her vision to elevate junior golfers within Hawaii through the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association (HSJGA) continues to blossom. The organization annually engages more than 500 juniors from elementary to high school age. Among the past program graduates are Michelle Wie and Tadd Fujikawa.
“I don’t think that many people realize the impact that Mary Bea and the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association had on the lives of Michelle Wie and Tadd Fujikawa, to name a few,” said NBC golf reporter Mark Rolfing in a tribute video.
“I am the luckiest girl in the world for having friends like those in the video,” said Porter-King, a former Independent Director (2006-09) on the PGA Board of Directors. Among those Porter-King thanked were her 92-year-old father, who was attending the program.
“I thank him for never letting me win at anything,” said Porter-King. “That probably was the reason I was able to excel in four sports later in life. Thank you, Dad, for allowing me to believe in my dreams.”
Among those in the audience paying tribute to Porter-King was Jonathan Smucker, 27, of Downingtown, Pa., who had made the trip from the outskirts of Philadelphia to Orlando to surprise the award-winner. On March 16, 1988, Smucker, then a 3-year-old, had fallen into a swimming pool near the Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, Ariz.
Porter-King was competing that day in a qualifying round for the former LPGA Standard Register Turquoise Classic. She had hooked her ball on the par-5 13th hole near a fence, when she saw a family in peril. Smucker was lying lifeless. With the aid of her caddie, Porter-King was helped over the fence and for nearly 22 minutes, administered CPR until paramedics arrived. Because of her actions, Smucker’s life was saved and the special bond between the two would endure through the years.
“It was a great moment for me to be able to surprise Mary Bea earlier in the day when she opened a door to walk to the program,” said Smucker. “The whole evening was a great appreciation for her and what she has meant to her sport. Watching the video really was great. Obviously, I would not have been here had she not hooked her ball on that hole. She’s unbelievable. I wish we had anyone like her in the horse business, nourishing our sport.”
Essig, a 21-year member of The PGA of America, is the third member of the Indiana PGA Section to receive the Association’s highest honor bestowed upon a member professional. Recognized for his leadership within the Indiana PGA Section, serving on the Board of Directors since 1988, Essig has been a member since 2001 of the Indiana Golf Association/Indiana PGA. He also began learning the Rules of Golf at age 12, while accompanying his father and mother on a 1980 trip home after the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
That first learning session ignited Essig to follow his father, Don, and become a member of the PGA Rules Committee in 1998 and work multiple major championships. Essig joined his father, the 1984 Horton Smith Award recipient, as the third father-son combination to receive a PGA of America national award.
“The first question posed to me by a reporter about receiving this award,” said Essig, “was ‘Who is Chip Essig?’ That was a tough question to start with, but I can say that I’m a little part of each of the people who have helped me through my life. Among them was the Special Olympics family. I’ve benefited so much from them.”
In 1996, Essig was asked to host the Indiana State Special Olympics Tournament, and in 2003 he was selected as the head coach of the U.S. Team that participated in the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland.
“I also had the privilege to learn from our Section’s best leaders,” said Essig. “Their guidance was what helped me in my efforts to be a better PGA Professional.”
Reigning PGA Professional National Champion David Hutsell of Baltimore, Md., the PGA director of instruction at the Elkridge Club in Baltimore, received his first PGA Professional Player of the Year Award. Hutsell’s banner season, in which he won the National Championship last June in Hershey, Pa., also included capturing his first Maryland State Open, compete in the PGA Championship and help the United States retain the Llandudno Trophy in the PGA Cup.
“To win our National Championship and to play in the PGA Cup was more than I could imagine,” said Hutsell, a former college baseball pitcher who turned to golf after suffering an arm injury. “I was so proud to be able to do that.” Hutsell said that golf “gave me every opportunity to succeed in life.”
Sonny Skinner Jr., the PGA head professional at River Pointe Country Club in Albany, Ga., captured his second consecutive Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Award. Skinner paid tribute to a family that had lost its son in an automobile accident and gave him, then a 10-year-old, their late son’s set of golf clubs.
“That very special gesture started me in the game and has always held a place in my heart,” said Skinner, who also has never erased a voice message on his home phone from his late father. “I carry my father with me every time I walk a golf course. He continues to be my inspiration.”
PGA Teacher of the Year Mike Malaska, the PGA director of instruction for the Nicklaus Academies Worldwide and Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Superstition Mountain, Ariz., recounted his early teaching career. Malaska was a pioneer of a standard physical fitness evaluation for golfers that evolved into a model program.
“Golf saved my life,” said Malaska, whose tribute video included the story of his being caught jumping a fence to pick up balls at Nibley Park Golf Course in Salt Lake City by PGA Professional Tom Sorenson. The host professional would offer Malaska a part-time job if he would end his trespassing.
“My move into teaching was a journey where I learned many valuable lessons, from many great instructors. We can all learn to teach around what a person is, and not who we want them to be.”
Susan Roll of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., the PGA Merchandiser of the Year for Public Facilities, earned her award for standout efforts in renovating and promoting the Carlsbad (Calif.) Golf Center, which she acquired nine years ago. Roll and her staff turned a struggling business into a thriving golf shop that ranks among the most innovative in the country.
“It is the ‘Cheers’ of golf, where people know your name when you walk in the door,” said Roll. “We take pride in clubfitting and delivering the experience to help our customers improve their games. When they get to play better golf, you feel so good for them. Above all, we stayed true to who we are.”
Rick Grayson of Springfield, Mo., recipient of the PGA Junior Leader Award, proudly cited the many events and programs in his hometown, which he proudly declared is “the Junior Golf Capital of the World. We care.” Grayson is the PGA teaching professional at Connie Morris Golf Learning Center at Rivercut Golf Course in Springfield, and his list of students include actor Lucas Black, the star of the 2011 motion picture, “Seven Days in Utopia.”
In 2008, Grayson campaigned to bring SNAG Golf to all elementary schools in the Springfield School District and currently serves on its national advisory board. Today, the SNAG Golf Elementary Program touches more than 9,000 youth in the greater Springfield area.
The complete list of 2011 PGA of America award recipients honored included:
- Don “Chip” Essig of Westfield, Ind. – PGA Golf Professional of the Year
- Mary Bea Porter-King of Kapaa, Hawaii – PGA First Lady of Golf
- Mike Malaska of Gold Canyon, Ariz. – PGA Teacher of the Year
- John Rogers of Chambersburg, Pa. – Horton Smith Award
- Robert “Bob” Dolan Jr. of Chevy Chase, Md. – Bill Strausbaugh Award
- Rick Grayson of Nixa, Mo. – PGA Junior Golf Leader
- Brian Bain of Brookline, Mass. – President’s Plaque
- David Hutsell of Baltimore, Md. – PGA Professional Player of the Year
- Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga. – Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year
- PGA Merchandisers of the Year –
n Jeffrey Kiddie of Newtown Square, Pa. – Private Facilities
n Susan Roll of Carlsbad, Calif. – Public Facilities
n Hill Herrick of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – Resort Facilities
The PGA of America also presented two additional national awards, Jan. 24, at the 95th PGA Annual Meeting at the Hilton Orlando:
- John Hines of Baiting Hollow, N.Y. – Patriot Award
- The Colorado PGA Section – Herb Graffis Award