Many local golfers turn pro, but no one has done it quite like Southbury’s John VanDerLaan has done it.
VanDerLaan, 21, recently graduated from Florida Southern College with a degree in business administration. He left with more than a diploma. Check out his significant collegiate championship haul:
Four-time Division II All-American.
Division II Jack Nicklaus award winner.
Division II stroke-average record of 69.05.
Seven tournament victories in 2018.
Shot 17 under par to win Division II national championship.
Named Sunshine State Conference Golfer of the Year, twice.
Division II national team champion.
And that ain’t the half of it.
All five of the NCAA Jack Nicklaus winners, representing golfers across all levels of college golf, came together for a championship day at the course where Jack learned the game, the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. On June 2, with Nicklaus watching, VanDerLaan became the first Division II golfer ever to win the Barbasol Shootout. He played Scioto in 3 under par, shot a 67 and won by three shots.
And his reward?
VanDerLaan earned an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship at Kentucky’s Keene Trace Golf Club, July 16-22. The eyes of the golf world will be on Carnoustie that week and the 148th British Open, but VanDerLaan’s PGA Tour pro debut is headline enough for us.
Of course, VanDerLaan’s debut could come sooner. Today, he takes his first professional swings at the Travelers Championship pre-qualifier. He tees off at Ellington Ridge Country Club at 12:36 p.m. There are other locals in the field, like Blake Morris, Chris Wiatr, John Bushka, James Smith, and amateurs too, like Eric Dietrich and Hunter Ramee. The low 25 are inited back to the Travelers Monday qualifier, again at Ellington Ridge.
Nothing is certain in professional golf, except for this: VanDerLaan’s pro debut has arrived, maybe in Cromwell, definitely in Kentucky.
“It has been a lot of hard work, for a really long time,” VanDerLaan said after a practice round at The Golf Club at Oxford Greens. “I am fortunate. I had a really good high school (Pomperaug) career, and continued to develop my game in college, especially this last year, and that gives me confidence that I can continue to do that in my professional career.”
VanDerLaan was the CSGA junior champ in 2012, the third low amateur at the Connecticut Open of 2013, the Division II high school state champion in 2014, and the New England amateur champion in 2014. He shoots in the red, often. The trick now is to do that against professionals.
“Some people struggle when they play for a paycheck,” VanDerLaan said. “It affects their game and their mind set. My personal belief, and this is the biggest thing, is that it is still the same game. Yes, you are playing against better players than before, but you can’t let that get into your head. I will play golf the way I always have.”
Consistency, VanDerLaan said, is his major strength.
“For me, it is not about any big improvement in any area of my game,” he said, “just steady improvement and overall consistency. That what I need to do to compete and succeed as a professional.”
And a professional he is, with a tour date to prove it.
“This has all been incredible,” he said. “This is what I have been working towards, and I have the opportunity straight out of college to play in a PGA Tour event. I am ready and I am excited.”
Golf has always been a game for John VanDerLaan. Today it becomes his business. He seems unfazed.
“It is still the same game,” he said, “and I have played it my entire life.”
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