One of the many maxims by which golfers abide reads as follows: “There are no pictures on the scorecard.”
In the case of Michael Bembenick, though, the picture of his scorecard that gained attention Friday afternoon failed to tell the whole story.
While all golfers have experienced the frustration of a bad round, Bembenick reached nearly uncharted territory during the second round of the United Leasing Championship, a Web.com Tour event in Newburgh, Ind. After an opening 89 Thursday, the 27-year-old assistant pro struggled to a score of 103 Friday, a round that included more triple bogeys (3) than pars (2). Though any range of emotion can be expected after a round of that magnitude, Bembenick was remarkably optimistic about his experience.
“Everyone has been embarrassed on a golf course before,” he explained in a phone interview. “Mine just happened to be on a national stage.”
To better understand his ability to view the proverbial glass as half-full, it helps to trace Bembenick’s entry into the event – a process that began on April 15.
That’s when the Zionsville, Ind., resident carded an even-par 72 at Sagamore Golf Club in the Indiana PGA Tournament Series, a round that was good enough to tie for second among a 96-man field comprised of club professionals from across the state. As a result, Bembenick, who works as an assistant pro at Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis, made it into a playoff for the final qualifying spot at a Web.com Tour event to be played locally in late June. After losing the playoff on the third extra hole, Bembenick left the course with many positives from a strong round of golf, returned to his job at Meridian Hills and thought nothing more of the situation.
With the club short-staffed to begin the spring season, Bembenick’s already packed schedule became even busier, with duties ranging from lessons to club fittings to overseeing day-to-day course operations.
“Playing golf is the last thing I had time to think about,” recalled Bembenick, who estimated that he teaches 600 lessons per year.
Juggling an increasing work load that largely left him unable to focus on his own golf game, Bembenick received a surprising phone call on June 19.
Just more than a week before the Web.com Tour event was set to begin at nearby Victoria National Golf Club, one of the three spots in the field assigned to Indiana PGA sectional players had become available. By virtue of his performance at the qualifying event in April, Bembenick was offered the berth with only days left to hone his game.
Estimating that at least three weeks had passed since his last round of golf when he received the invitation, the 27-year-old was originally hesitant to accept the offer. Jack Barber, head professional at Meridian Hills, was among those who viewed the event as a chance for his assistant to gain valuable experience.
“You don’t get an opportunity to play on that stage that often,” said Barber. “Michael is a great young man and I was excited for him.”
Despite the short window of prep time afforded, Bembenick accepted the spot and got set to make his Web.com Tour debut. The scores that resulted, though, were far from ideal, and midway through his round Friday it was clear his total would likely gain attention for all the wrong reasons. Finding himself in a situation where many players, professional or otherwise, might walk off the course or simply fail to turn in a scorecard, Bambenick pressed on.
“Never considered it,” he said of possibly withdrawing from the event. “It never even crossed my mind.”
Indeed, the answers he offered amplified comments made immediately after his second round, comments that show a player with an admirable outlook and a keen grasp of the bigger picture.
'I think it's important to lead by example and show the youth that no matter how bad you play, it's important to finish,' he said after the round. 'No one likes to see a quitter. I know none of the members at my club or any students that I teach would want to see me quit.'
It’s a sentiment that has the support of his boss back at Meridian Hills.
“Those scores are not indicative of the type of player Michael is,” explained Barber. “He is a fine individual and I am very proud of the way he handled himself under difficult circumstances.”
Though he plans to continue to play competitively on occasion – he’ll next tee it up July 1 in a local event, the Indiana PGA Monticello Open – Bembenick insists that his main interest still lies with growing the game at the club level.
“I love teaching. I really enjoy it,” he noted, now in his fourth year as an assistant at Meridian Hills. “Instruction, the whole club fitting process, helping others learn the game … it’s all truly a passion.”
With perhaps his career-worst round now behind him – “I can’t remember the last time I shot over 50 for nine holes, not even in junior high,” he recalled – Bembenick remains hopeful that others can benefit from the struggle he endured Friday, and the positives he was able to extract from an otherwise difficult day by finishing the round with his head held high.
“I’m glad a lesson could be learned from someone shooting a score like this,” he added. “I just wish it wasn’t me.”