Souza officially joins pro golfing fraternity
By Bob Weiner, Gazette Sportswriter
SCHENECTADY - One of Stadium Golf Club head pro John Souza's favorite hobbies is road racing, but despite numerous personal challenges, he has finally stopped running away from a major career hurdle.
Although Souza has fulfilled his teaching, pro-shop and administrative responsibilities at the busy public course for the last seven years, he wasn't a full-fledged member of the Professional Golfers' Association - until now.
Souza earned his Class A PGA card this winter and now enjoys all the perks from that achievement, including playing in Northeast NY PGA events. As a non-member pro, Souza wasn't eligible to play in all local club tournaments.
"This feels great," said the 34-year-old Souza. "When I got the results from my tests, I had a feeling of pride. I was so happy to get this done and out of the way. I'm finally able to wear the PGA logo. I've got my Class A plaque on the wall," he said.
"I felt like such a dunce for a long time. I just didn't get it all together and get this part of my career done. Now, it kind of legitimizes my career in my own mind. Having gone through the PGA program, I've learned that there is so much more I can offer to people at the course."
"My relationship with Stadium started after I graduated from college," said the Poughkeepsie native and Arlington High School graduate. "I was a finance major at St. Bonaventure University, but I never played on the college team. I actually tried to get on the team, but I couldn't get a tryout."
"So eventually, I started working at Stadium on weekends as something to do. It was a way of getting some free golf, but turned into an opportunity to become a PGA professional."
"Normally, you have two years to complete each level of the PGA program, and eight years total. When I first started working in the Pro Shop, I was still holding two jobs. I couldn't devote myself fully to the PGA. Then, I got married, and I had even less time to devote to getting my Class A."
"At the end of the 2005 golf season, I was asked by Stadium owner Greg Hennel, to become the Head Golf Professional. All of a sudden, I had no sense of urgency," Souza said. "I had just fallen into a great full-time job, and everything was working out well."
Souza began to fulfill his job responsibilities at Stadium and didn't spend much time working toward his PGA Class A card.
"I was delinquent. I said to myself that I would eventually get it done, but I was learning the job, and starting a family. Getting my Class A wasn't a big priority for me any longer."
Several local club professionals, and local club maker Dick Bogdan urged Souza to get his Class A card, and Bogdan actually helped with some of the club making assignments.
Eventually, Souza had enough of feeling like less than a full-fledged PGA member.
"I felt like I wanted to be a member of the PGA fraternity. Even though a lot of the guys were always very accepting of me and my role as a non-member head professional, I wanted my card," he said. "I couldn't play in any tournaments and was feeling like I was missing opportunities."
"What motivated me was that I received a letter from the PGA in 2008. The letter said that I needed to complete the program requirements by June 2012 or start over. That was the turning point for me," he said.
"I took the letter from the PGA and posted it on my bulletin board in my home office."
Souza hit the books hard and recently returned from Florida where he had his final tests. It was the last of three trips to Florida, one for each level of the program.
"Through it all, my wife, Courtney, was very supportive," he said. "Never once did she complain about when I was doing book work, finishing up the process or filming lessons and studying. At the time I was finishing up, we had a 3-year old son and a newborn baby girl."
Souza is a devoted family man and tries to spend as much time as possible with his wife and two children, 4-year-old Will and 15-month-old Caroline.
He also bowls in the off-season and runs a few long distance road races, like the annual Gazette Stockade-athon 15k.
But he knows that in order to be the kind of club pro he wants to be he needed his Class A PGA card.
"I wanted to feel legitimate, and I finally do," he said. "I wanted to feel like Jeremy Kerr and Matt Daley at Mohawk Club and Brian Pierotti and Scott Warren at Pinehaven, and many others. They are all Class A members.
"I've already planned on playing in just about every tournament on the schedule. It will be cool to finally be a full participant in PGA events and back out on the circuit," he said. "It's really special for me. I would say it's an awesome feeling."
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Bob Weiner at 395-3147 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his take on local golf anytime by checking out his blog, "On the Ball," at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/weiner.