Alum passes qualifying test to earn spot in prestigious PGA Championship

Holmes, former Blue Devil All-American and golf enterprise management graduate, excited to play against world’s best
​Jerry Poling | May 18, 2021

Most people’s dreams of performing on life’s biggest stages — like going from regional orchestra member to the New York Philharmonic, from lead band singer to the Grand Ole Opry or from dirt track racer to the Indianapolis 500 — fade in the bright lights of reality.

When a 34-year-old University of Wisconsin-Stout graduate made a final hole, 30-foot par putt at a recent golf tournament and looked up at the scoreboard, he realized that his lifelong, too-good-to-be-true dream was, indeed, about to come true.

“When that putt went in, I don’t remember much,” Derek Holmes said.

Derek Holmes, a 2010 UW-Stout graduate and former Blue Devil golfer, qualified for this week’s PGA Championship in South Carolina, one of golf four major events.
Derek Holmes, a 2010 UW-Stout graduate and former Blue Devil golfer, qualified for this week’s PGA Championship in South Carolina, one of golf four major events / Contributed photo

A short time later, after other golfers finished in the late April qualifying event in Florida, Holmes learned that he officially had qualified for the PGA Championship, one of pro golf’s four major events.

Along with the PGA, golf’s other major championships are the U.S. Open, Masters and British Open, events that helped make Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus household names.

On Thursday, May 20, the former Blue Devil golf team member will tee it up at Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort near Charleston, S.C., with the best players in the world.

“Behind the birth of my son and my wedding, this is one of the highlights of my life,” Holmes said Monday, after a practice round at the course that parallels the Atlantic Ocean shoreline.

Holmes, who graduated from UW-Stout in 2010 with a degree in golf enterprise management, tees off at 7:22 a.m. with veteran touring pros George Coetzee, of South Africa, and Byeong Hun-An, from South Korea.

The Cottage Grove, Minn., resident manages a PXG golf retail shop in Edina, Minn. He has been a top player in Minnesota state events since his college days — the way he got into the qualifying event in Florida — but has never played in a PGA Tour event or anything even close to it.

“This is different. I’ve got to get a lot more comfortable with people watching me,” he said.
 

Derek Holmes chips to the second green Monday during a practice round for the PGA Championship.
Derek Holmes chips to the second green Monday during a practice round for the PGA Championship. / Contributed photo

Knowing this could be a once-in-a-lifetime event, he wants to soak in the atmosphere and not put too much pressure on himself. The field of 156 golfers is trimmed approximately in half after two rounds.

“My goal is to make the cut. If I don’t I’m still going to be enjoying the experience because who knows if this could happen again,” he said. Just 10 club pros have made the cut in the past 13 PGA Championships.

Family and friends are on hand to help make it a memorable week. His brother, Devin, who played collegiately at St. Cloud State, will be his caddie. His entourage will include his wife, Kelsey Treptow Holmes, also a UW-Stout graduate who played on the women’s golf team; his parents, in-laws and friends. One of those friends is Andrew Smith, who played at UW-Stout.

Cheering from afar will be one of his mentors, Howie Samb, also a PGA pro, who recently retired from UW-Stout as a golf enterprise management program professor and women’s golf coach.

Derek in my opinion is the most gifted golfer ever to play at Stout. His swing is extremely solid and produces tremendous speed, which converts to tour-like distance,” Samb said, adding that if Holmes stays patient and “in the moment” like at the qualifier he’s good enough to make the cut at the PGA.

Howie Samb, former UW-Stout golf coach and golf management professor
Howie Samb, former UW-Stout golf coach and golf management professor / UW-Stout

“The whole Stout golf fraternity is proud of Derek and will be excited to watch him perform this week. Anyone who is an avid golfer understands what a feat Derek has already accomplished just qualifying for the PGA Championship,” Samb said.

In his junior year at UW-Stout, he was NCAA Division III second-team All-American and placed 11th in the 2009 Division III national tournament.

Holmes earned his PGA Class A pro status in 2015 and worked as a club pro until 2020, when he took over management of the PXG shop in Edina, overseeing a staff that fits players with PXG clubs — the brand he’ll be playing this week.

His UW-Stout golf management degree, he said, helped prepare him for many aspects of the golf industry. Playing ability such as his isn’t required to do well in the program.

“It’s open to everyone. You don’t have to be a good player. There are so many other avenues the program opened me up to — you can be a general manager, a director of golf, merchandiser, even what I do at PXG,” he said.

A putt to remember

Holmes said the strongest part of his game is his iron play. He’ll need all his good swings at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, the longest in major championship history. It will play firm with fast greens, faster than he’s used to.

Plus, the wind is always blowing, complicating everything. It’s essentially the opposite of rolling, tree-lined golf typical of the Midwest. He’s practiced some new run-up shots that will come in handy around the greens this week.

“I’ve been here since Friday, and the course is getting firmer every day,” he said. “It’s everything I’ve been told.”

Holmes surprised himself a bit when he qualified at the PGA Professional Championship. Given the cool spring in the Upper Midwest, he had played only a few rounds post-winter before going to the qualifier in Florida. “I was coming in cold,” he said.

He had made it to the national qualifier one other time, in 2016. This time, his game was on. “I didn’t have a ton of expectations. I hit the ball well for four days and made the most of it.”

Still, it came down to his final nine holes. Then, he realized he had a chance to make his dream true.

“When we made the turn, I thought, ‘OK, this could be something special.’ I didn’t think about it too much because one bad swing and it’s gone,” he said.

He shot even par, dropping the 30-foot putt on his final hole to tie for eighth place. If he missed, he would have been in a playoff for a PGA berth.

The top 20 club pros qualify. Ten of them, like him, are making their PGA debut. Some are former PGA Tour players.

Despite his success at UW-Stout, in Minnesota and now reaching the PGA, Holmes has no illusions of suddenly believing he could be a professional player.

“These guys are so good,” he said, and he’s getting an inside-the-ropes look at them this week, rubbing shoulders with players he’s idolized and watched for years on TV.

At the PGA Championship, one of golf’s biggest stages, Holmes is living out his dream.

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