In September, Rockville High School graduate Danny Balin experienced a brief moment of fame.
Playing in the PGA Cup, a biennial event that is essentially the golf club professional version of the Ryder Cup, Balin appeared on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day highlight package.
On the par-3 183-yard seventh hole at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., the 30-year old recorded his second career hole-in-one. The ace, which was hit with a 7-iron, helped the United States to victory against a team representing Great Britain and Ireland.
Balin said the short instance of national notoriety was exciting, but he has his sites set on a much more lofty goal. Next month, he will be playing in the 94th PGA Championship at the Ocean Course on Kiwah Island, S.C. It will be his third consecutive entry into in professional golf’s fourth and final major tournament of the season. In two previous appearances, Balin finished well over par and missed the cut.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Balin said from playing in the biggest tournaments of his life. “First off, it’s how to prepare. It’s the preparation back home and how much time I spend practicing on site. Also it’s about knowing how the week goes. Finally, it is about handling the pressure. You want to treat it as any other tournament although it isn’t. I can’t worry about the whole circus going on around with all the marquee players. I never play in front of anybody except at this major.”
During his previous two major tournaments, Balin did not become familiar with the course until shortly before the event. This time, Balin is already accustomed to the 7,676-yard par-72 Ocean Course.
“I got to play it back in November about four times and stayed a couple of days,” said Balin, who carded a 73, 74, 78 and 79 during his unofficial practice rounds. “It is a beautiful course right on the ocean, but it was rated one of the toughest courses in the country by Golf Digest and that is definitely true because of the wind. … It is tougher I think than Whistling Straights and [the] Atlanta [Athletic Club], but at the same time I will be more familiar with the course and know the holes.”
In late June, Balin carded a 2-over par 290 at the PGA Professional National Championship at the Bayonet and Black Horse Golf Courses in Seaside, Calif., to qualify for the PGA Championship. He finished tied for 15th to earn a spot into the 156-person field. The top-20 scorers at the event receive and invitation to play.
“Hopefully, the third time’s the charm,” Balin said. “And I make the cut. That’s the goal.”
Balin, the assistant professional at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., also won September’s Metropolitan PGA Professional Championship by two strokes at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y.
Balin, who graduated from Rockville High School in 2000, did not play golf competitively until his senior year of high school. He went on to Penn State, where he immersed himself in the PGA Golf Management program, but still did not get out onto the course regularly.
It was not until after college graduation, when he took his current job at Burning Tree, that Balin started playing the sport as seriously as he studied it.
Since then, he has been working with swing coach Bobby Heins and has geared his entire life around qualifying for the PGA Championship and attempting to become a regular on the PGA Tour through the PGA Qualifying Tournament, better known as “Q-School.”
“Danny is so serious about golf right now,” said Janice Balin, his mother, who will be in the gallery at Kiwah Island with Danny’s father and brothers. “The first time he got in, he let all his friends and family come because it was a celebration. Now, he is all business and doesn’t want any distractions. He’s made it pretty clear we aren’t going to see much of him and told me not to plan any big family dinners.
“Danny is so focused, driven and motivated. Golf is his passion and it is tough for us since we don’t get to see him much … but we could not be any happier or prouder for him.”