The test of a professional golfer

January 22, 2022

Last summer, I took a lesson from Chris Gray at Rehoboth Beach Country Club. I told him I sought his help because I wanted to take the Professional Ability Test for the PGA.

Gray looked at me like I had three heads. He cocked his head to one side and said, “Why would you want to do that?”

I told him that to become a practicing lawyer, I had to pass the Delaware bar exam. From my perspective, the PAT meant the same thing to any aspiring golf professional. I wanted to see how good I could become before taking the test, and then see what it felt like when I played it.

After a short pause he said, “OK, then, let’s get to work,” and we did.

When I asked other golf pros about the PAT, they weren’t quite as blunt, but were equally curious about my motivation. Giving them the bar exam analogy inspired a range of thoughtful responses.

Kevin Weist, head professional at Kings Creek Country Club, completed his bachelor’s degree in recreation and parks management with a concentration in professional golf management in 1998. As with the program at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the Penn State program requires students to pass the PAT to graduate.

Weist came to Penn State as a skilled golfer and felt good about his chances to pass the PAT on the first try. After his first several holes on the front nine, he stood at one-under par.

His playing partner, a good buddy, complimented Weist on how well he was playing. That remark quickly led to a string of bogeys as Weist’s front nine score shot up. As they began the second nine, Weist used some pungent language and told his friend to say nothing more. Weist recovered and passed his PAT.

John Malinowski is the longtime head golf professional at Ocean Pines Golf Course in Ocean Pines, Md. He oversees the PGA’s PAT process in the area, running two tests each year – one at Ocean Pines and the other at Great Hope Golf Course in Princess Anne, Md. He also passed his PAT on the first try.

When I suggested that the golfers might make the mistake of focusing too much on the total score, Malinowski immediately responded, “Absolutely!”

“When I took mine, in Johnsonville, S.C., we had like a three-hour rain delay. When I went into it, I didn’t go into it to shoot a number; I wanted to win. It wasn’t a tournament, but that’s how I went into it. I never really worried about what the number was; I just kept going on each hole.

“During the rain delay, we’re sitting under some balcony there. I remember pulling my hat down, just trying to relax a little bit, and all people talked about was what was the number. I had no idea where they were at, but I could kind of tell who was going to make it and who wasn’t. Because that’s all they were focused on. They were so focused on it. So, if they made a bogey or something like that, they were more pressed,” Malinowski said.

Billy Dillon, director of the PGM program at Maryland Eastern Shore, said the right mental approach is critical to passing. “My advice is to think of it as just another round of golf. The problem is the cut score. It gets into their heads,” he said.

Dillon mentioned one situation where a golfer shot 71 in the first round, in great position to pass the PAT. The same golfer blew up in the second round to an 87 and just missed the passing score.

Bayside Resort’s head pro Bob Crowther discussed other challenges to passing the PAT. “It’s hard to pass because of the time commitments of their golf jobs. You can’t do it by taking 15-20 minutes to putt and chip balls. Playing is so far down the list with all the other demands on your time at a golf club. You need to get a number of rounds in, but it’s hard to get away,” he said.

Don Demasters completed his PGM program at New Mexico State in 2000 and worked as a club pro for Troon Golf. As the general manager of Peninsula Golf & Country Club near Millsboro for more than 10 years, he advised many assistant golf pros as they prepared for their PATs.

Demasters said he always told the young pros to play the two rounds as if they were in a regular tournament. He stressed how important it is to play one stroke at a time. Like the others, however, Demasters admitted that maintaining the right mindset is very difficult.

Malinowski said passing the PAT on the first attempt is rarely accomplished. Multiple PAT attempts are the norm. “I know overall it’s about 17 percent that pass. If you add up everybody that takes it, it’s about 17 percent every year.”

By comparison, when I passed the Delaware bar in 1978 on my first attempt, the pass rate was 53 percent. That means the PAT is a much bigger barrier to entry than one of the country’s toughest bar exams.


  • Fritz Schranck has been writing about the Cape Region's golf community since 1999. Snippets, stories and anecdotes from his columns are included in his new book, "Hole By Hole: Golf Stories from Delaware's Cape Region and Beyond," which is available at the Cape Gazette offices, Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Biblion Books in Lewes, and local golf courses. His columns and book reviews are available at

    Contact Fritz by emailing

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