Metropolis Country Club’s new golf pro, Ron Philo Jr., is a PGA professional national champ.
Ron Philo appeared on the Westchester golf scene this year like Wyatt Earp striding into the O.K. Corral. Shortly after taking his place as head pro at Metropolis Country Club, Philo announced his presence by winning the PGA Professional National Championship at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. He spent the rest of the summer winning other tournaments and then went to Medinah Country Club to tee it up with Tiger and the gang in the PGA Championship—the seventh time he’s competed in that major. There is a new gunslinger in Westchester.
Off the golf course, you’d never suspect Ron Philo, Jr., is a steely-eyed competitor. The 40-year-old father of two has the affable smile of a natural-born salesman and an easy, relaxed manner. He’s one of those guys who can make conversation with anyone. Club President Richard Katcher agrees that Ron is very warm and friendly. Once he takes a golf club out of the bag, though, watch out.
“He plays without fear,” according to Bobby Heins, head pro at Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase and a fierce competitor himself (he was Met PGA Player of the Year in 1990 and a three-time Met PGA Senior Player of the Year.) “He’s a straight-ahead player who doesn’t let anything faze him.” And Heins should know: he went mano-a-mano against Philo in the Met Professional Championship.
Philo’s singular focus kept him at the top of his game throughout the summer. Just a few weeks after winning the national title, he took the Westchester Open by just a few strokes. He went to Newport in August and won the Rhode Island Open, then came back to win the Met PGA Professional Championship at Patriot Hills. Such results are nothing new for Philo, who says with Lou Gehrig-like modesty, “I’ve been fortunate to be playing well during the last decade.” That’s an understatement. His record includes the 2003 Rhode Island Open, the 1999 Bacardi Trophy at Bermuda Goodwill, and the 2005 New England Open. His career hasn’t been limited to competing against other club pros, either. Philo played in the 1999 US Open and seven (so far) PGA Championships. He missed the cut in the PGA Championship at Medinah this year, but made it in 2005 at Baltusrol, where he finished 66th.
Despite things not going as planned at Medinah, Philo took it all in stride. “I hit a six-iron on the seventeenth hole, which was plenty of club, but it went in the water anyway. On the second hole, I made mental mistakes carried over from the hole before,” he explains calmly. The members of Metropolis took it in stride, too. As Philo talks about Medinah, he grins wryly and points to a fishbowl with three golf balls sitting in it, a good-natured gift from Club Green Chairman John Schultz.
There must be a golf gene somewhere in the Philo family. Ron’s grandfather quit GE to open a driving range in Scotia, New York, outside Schenectady. His father, Ron, Sr., was a club pro who took Ron (then age 10) along when he competed in the 1976 PGA Championship at Congressional against Ken Venturi. His uncle, Dave, played in two PGA Championships.
The best well-known member of the Philo family golf juggernaut, though, is little sister Laura Diaz, who has enjoyed a stellar career on the LPGA Tour. Laura made room in her tournament schedule to caddy for big brother Ron at Baltusrol (despite being four months pregnant at the time), and again this year at Medinah. When Ron won the PGA National this year, Laura raced across New York from Rochester to watch him after placing 17th in the Wegmans LPGA Tournament.
In addition to his blood relatives, Philo says he grew up with an extended golf family that toughened up his game. “Bob Duval was a great friend of my father’s.” Philo played against Bob Duval and his son, British Open winner David, in “friendly” matches with a little money on the line. “I had to learn to put the ball in the hole and shoot scores in the sixties or I had to pay somebody.”
The lessons paid off as Philo went on to play on the Canadian and Australasian Tours. When wife Kim became pregnant, however, he took a job as head pro at Long Point Golf Club on Amelia Island Plantation. Not long afterward, he opened the Ron Philo School of Golf and settled down to family life, albeit one that included plenty of beat-their-brains-out competitive golf.
Westchester beckoned when Gene Borek announced his retirement after 25 years as head pro at Metropolis. “I was really ready, with two kids, to find a place we could live year-round,” Philo says. Westchester held other attractions, too. “There is so much more competition here in all facets of life,” Philo observes. “Competition creates better performances.”
Best of all are the other cowboys hanging around the corral. “This area is full of players at my level,” he says, his eyes lighting up at the prospect of shooting it out with them. “Greg Bisconti [assistant pro at Saint Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings] just went out and shot two under par in his first PGA Championship. How good is that?”
Carl Alexander, director of golf at The Golf Club of Purchase and 1998 Met PGA Champion, relishes the contests, too. “When he’s on, Ron’s got a good chance of winning,” he says. “When he’s not on, he’s still competing.”
With a formidable track record at his back, Philo still dreams of achieving one of his lifelong goals: “I want to play in all four majors,” he says. Tom Nieporte, who retires this year from Winged Foot Golf Club, may be the last club pro in America to have done that. Philo has two down (the US Open and the PGA) and two to go (the Masters and the British Open). His win at Verona this year could open some doors, since he not only earned $75,000 and a berth in the PGA Championship at Medinah, but six 2007 PGA Tour exemptions as well.
Metropolis Club President Katcher is delighted that Philo plays hard and plays well. “Watching him on The Golf Channel makes you feel good,” he says. “There’s your pro playing on national television—and winning! It’s a fun thing to be associated with.”
Dave Donelson lives and writes in West Harrison and aspires, just once in his life, to break par.