Date: August 12, 2015
Author: Mark Hayes

Brett Jones treads PGA path he never dreamed

When Brett Jones headed to the United States in 2003, he didn’t have an inkling of a golf career.

The Sydneysider had been a reasonable amateur having achieved a scratch handicap playing pennants for Liverpool, but following his younger brother Matt’s footsteps as he chased his PGA dream was “not even on the radar”.

Brett, then 27, only knew that when he and his wife won green cards in the lottery, that her pharmaceutical career would lead them to New Jersey.

He took a job in a pro shop and, slowly but surely, honed his game to the point that this week at the US PGA Championship is effectively the grand coming out party for a game that precious few in Australia have seen.

That it’s on a major championship stage alongside Matt seems only fair – almost a decade after they last teed it up in the same pro field after qualifying first and second for the now defunct Jacob’s Creek Open at Royal Adelaide.

Brett will jump into the full glare of world golf’s spotlight tomorrow when, if as expected, he plays a practice round with his brother and his good mate and world No.2 Jordan Spieth.

But even though it’s the first time Brett has qualified through the PGA of America’s national championship, it’s far from his debut hitting balls with the game’s biggest names.

“It’s not daunting, really. It might be a little different on the first tee on Thursday, but having been around it with Matt, and been to so many events with him, it doesn’t seem too strange right now,” Brett told Golf Australia.

“I’ve been on the range with all the guys and hitting balls with Matt before, so it’s made it a fair bit easier.”

And that must be a blessed relief — because his path to Whistling Straits has been anything but easy.

Jones has come close to qualifying for the PGA the past two years, but couldn’t get his putting to the same standard as his long game.

And on July 1, he feared his chance might have again slipped him by in the closing holes of qualifying against 312 other club pros at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

He’d won a series of key events around New Jersey – including the Greg Norman Match Play Championship – but after asking a walking scorer his position with two holes to play, he learnt he was 22nd with room for only 20 qualifiers to head to Wisconsin.

“I figured if I went par-par I would have been close because it’s such a wild tournament and crazy things happen,” he said.

“Then on 17 I hit a good tee shot and it landed on edge of fairway and just bounced into the rough and I had about an inch of mud on the ball.

“The pin was tucked back right and I couldn’t risk missing (the green) right because there was no chance (of a par), so I had to aim left and I hit it into the greenside bunker and gave myself a 30-yard bunker shot with mud still on the ball.

“It was across the slope, downbreeze and it went in.

“It just went straight in.

“Then I hit a really good tee shot down the last, hit a wedge on and made a 25-footer for birdie to go birdie-birdie and finish fifth.

“It just felt like, `Finally!’. Finally I’d reached the goal.

“Some of the other tournaments that I’ve won or been in contention for, you get the heart going and you get the jitters. But in that event, you get the same jitters playing for 20th position. It’s really wild.

“So now, (in PGA Tour parlance), I’m the 40-year-old rookie,” he joked.

“I never thought I’d say that.”

Jones plies his trade in almost anonymity as head professional at Due Process Stable Golf Club in central New Jersey. It’s a club so private and exclusive that it doesn’t even have a website, preferring to stay tucked away in the rolling hills an hour south-west of bustling Manhattan.

But it is the club that has not only given Jones a base for his late-blooming career; the owner, staff and members have all given him their full blessing to chase a dream he once didn’t realise was that important.

Jones speaks almost disbelievingly about how he fell into a golf career.

“I was just loosely playing amateur stuff at home, hanging out with (Matt’s coach and The Australian Golf Club professional Gary) Barter,” he recalled.

“I spent a lot of time with Gary, just living in Oatley. But I never did anything of any significance in amateur events in Australia.

“It never crossed my mind I’d end up doing this. I started as an electrician, then did some electrical engineering courses … it’s crazy where you end up in life.”

Jones is adamant that he “won’t just be making up the numbers” at the PGA Championship.

“Traditionally club pros at this event haven’t really gone too well, but I’m not coming here just trying to make the cut,” he said.

“Even though that would be a great result, I’m not coming here with that in mind. It’s just like any other event – just trying to do the best I can.

“I just hope I hit it like I know I can so I can compare myself to the best in the world.”

Brett said Matt had told him little about Whistling Straits other than to “practise your long irons”.

So what can we expect to see of Brett? Despite the fact that he and his brother don’t play too often – they had two social hits at Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links together last year for the “first time in four years” – they have the same attacking approach to their game.

“I have the same style as Matt. Once I know my yardage and club, it’s go time. Bang. Ta,” Brett said.

“I’m very similar to Matt in that respect – there’s no standing over it. Just get into it … I feel like my short game is decent, so I can typically be pretty aggressive.”

And other than just playing up to his own standards, Brett holds just one patriotic hope for his maiden major championship voyage – that the PGA of America will give him an Australian flag beside his name on the leaderboard.

“I’ve been over here for coming on 13 years, but I’m still very much Australian, totally,” said Jones, who at the time of writing has a US flag because of his New Jersey address, his profession and his route through qualifying.

“I wanted to ask the PGA to change my flag, but I don’t want to rock the boat.”

For the record, brothers playing together in the US PGA is nothing new.

Bobby and Lanny Wadkins competed in the field from 1978-90; Danny and David Edwards were together six times between 1980-87; Tom and Curt Byrum qualified from 1987-89; and Italy’s Molinari brothers — Edoardo and Francesco — have done it three times since 2010.