How grit, and a little help from gravity, sent Birmingham CC pro to PGA Championship

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

As an assistant golf professional at Birmingham Country Club, Tim Pearce does most of his work with juniors. He teaches the game of golf to more than 100 kids a week, but the lessons extend well beyond driving, chipping and putting.

They hit on the game of life, as well.

Take last month, for example. In fourth place heading into the final round of the PGA Professional Championship — and needing only to finish in the top 20 to make the PGA Championship — Pearce got off to the most disastrous start. In his first four holes, Pearce went bogey-double-bogey-double.

Tim Pearce, an assistant pro at Birmingham Country Club, will make his PGA Championship debut.

Four hours later, he was hugging his parents off the 18th green, having qualified for the season's second major championship, after all.

"I'm watching with my son, like, 'Dude, this is exactly what you need to learn as a young golfer,'" said David Bubb, a member at Birmingham Country Club, whose son, Andy, is one of Pearce's golf students. "Yeah, you had an absolutely catastrophic start to the round, but Timmy put his head back on and dug.

"It's the perfect story of how you teach kids resilience in golf."

Pearce, 25, ended up finishing tied for eighth at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, earning his first trip to the PGA Championship. Well, actually, it's his second trip. He attended the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, but that was as a young fan. Now, he'll be teeing it up with the best in the world, starting Thursday at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

Pearce will be joined in the field by Caledonia's Ben Cook, who teaches out of Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, Michigan. This is Cook's third straight PGA Championship.

Both Cook, 27, and Pearce attended Ferris State; Cook played on the golf team, while Pearce was enrolled in the school's PGA Golf Management program.

They're the only Michigan men in the field this week.

"The big thing for me, as good of a player as he is, he's a better kid," said David Drisko, head pro at Birmingham Country Club, where Pearce was back to work shortly after qualifying for the PGA. "He's very humble.

"When he came back, it was almost all about Birmingham Country Club. The way he's kind of embraced this newfound fame, doing podcasts in the area, all the different things, and he still comes to work.

"You wouldn't know what he's accomplished based on how he's acting."

Pearce also is bringing his expansive inner circle into the experience. A Ferris buddy caddied for him at the PGA Professional Championship, family members were in attendance, and when ESPN came up to Birmingham last week to shoot footage and interviews ahead of its PGA Championship coverage, Pearce made sure his junior golfers got to be around and in the shot, too.

All the result of Pearce thriving in a field of 312, thanks to epic comeback in his final round. After the 6-over start through four, he made birdie on two of his next three to salvage 40 on the front nine. Bogeys at Nos. 13 and 15 set him back, though, and put him dangerously close to the cut line or a playoff. Then came the 220-yard par-3 17th hole, where Pearce hit his approach to 8 feet.

Make it and he's almost assuredly in the PGA Championship; miss it and he's probably staring at a playoff for one of the final spots.

It was a gentle right-to-left breaker and Pearce hit a good putt, but it darted sharply at the end to the left edge of the cup, where it hung dramatically on the lip. Six seconds later, the ball fell in — in a scene right out of "Caddyshack," minus the explosions.

He parred the 18th, and was booked for Kiawah.

"I felt it had to drop," Pearce, who broke into a crouch as the putt dangled on the lip but never approached the hole until it fell in, told reporters last month.

"That putt was pretty much everything for me."

Pearce, who attended Birmingham Seaholm High School, landed his first assistant-pro job out of college at Oakland Hills, where he worked under Drisko. When Drisko left to take the Birmingham job, he brought Pearce with him as one of his three assistant pros.

Aside from working with juniors — Pearce hosts group clinics and lessons on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as individual lessons — he runs the club's championships. They say if you want to play a lot of golf, don't become a golf professional at a club. The job responsibilities are endless.

But Pearce, the 2019 Michigan PGA Assistant Championship winner, carves out just enough time to stay on his game. Birmingham Country Club members raised $3,750 through GoFundMe to send him to the PGA Professional Championship, and have raised another $19,000 to cover all his expenses this week, including travel, lodging, food, caddie costs and whatever expenses might pop up. Members of the club, founded in 1916, watched the end of his run last month on a JumboTron outside the clubhouse, and are planning watch parties this week, hoping Pearce gets some television time, even if it's a single shot.

If there's one downside, this week is the annual Birmingham Country Club vs. Red Run Golf Club grudge match, which typically would include Pearce. (Red Run assistant pro Cody Haughton just missed out on the PGA, falling in a playoff for one of the last spots). There goes one of Birmingham's good golfers.

"Our only good golfer," Bubb said, laughing. "The club's fired up."

PGA Championship

► Where: Kiawah Island Golf Resort, South Carolina

► TV: Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. (ESPN); Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (ESPN), 1-7 p.m. (CBS)

► Purse: $11 million (winner: $1.98 million)

► Local players: Ben Cook (Caledonia), Tim Pearce (Birmingham)

► Defending champion: Collin Morikawa

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984