Big payday for Philadelphia PGA 'Everyman'

People constantly are asking sportswriters if they root for the people or the teams they cover. We reply that we root for the best story (or if it’s a late start, we root for a finish so we can make deadline).

But one of the best stories in the Philadelphia Section PGA in quite some time came to fruition on Tuesday when Hugh Reilly won the Haverford Trust Classic and a lucrative first-prize check of $45,000 after shooting a career-best 7-under-par 65.

Reilly, 45, who never had won a section points event before Tuesday in more than 15 years of competing, is an “Everyman” type of golfer.

He knows he won’t be the poster guy for golf fashion or the most technically sound golf swing. He notes that one of his problems is that he likes to swing for the fences on every shot, and he slowed himself down in Tuesday’s competition to great effect.

He loves to throw jabs at himself. When he foolishly – yet successfully – punched a second shot out of a narrow opening in the woods and onto the green at No. 13, he said at different times: “I probably should have chipped it out but I’m a moron” and “I try dumb things all the time and I shouldn’t.”

And he doesn’t exactly ooze confidence about his own game. He gave enormous credit to his caddie, Temple junior Alex McPherson, for his club selection and greens reading during the Haverford Trust, then freely talked of all the times that McPherson has bested him in friendly rounds together.

Sitting in the room used for scoring at Sunnybrook, one could tell that Reilly’s round was warmly received by his section colleagues, especially after Reilly ran off four straight birdies to get from 1-under to 5-under after 12 holes.

Told of that later, Reilly laughed and said: “Yeah, I could see them watching the scoreboard as I’m going 3, 4, 5 (under) and then watching it some more as I go 5, 4, 2” under.

He didn't make a bogey all day Tuesday. But even if his round did go the other way, Reilly still would have accepted it with the same cheerful disposition. As one section official said, “65 or 80, Hugh is still smiling when it’s over.”

Reilly is the head pro at Twining Valley Golf Course, a public layout in Dresher, Montgomery County that has been leased by his father, Hugh Sr., since 1984. His duties have been expanded since his older brother, Will, took a job with the PGA of America as Junior Golf Development Manager a few months ago.

Given all that, plus the lessons, the junior programs and a diversion coaching a CYO baseball team that he calls “a blast,” Reilly is a little too busy to practice or play. His 65 was just his fourth full 18-hole round of the year. But he has been coaxed to the range by friends at Twining Valley to work on his game, and that played a big role in Tuesday’s round.

And who knew that one year after he carded a 91 at the Haverford Trust Classic, a score that included a 14 at the par-3 fifth where he kept insisting on hitting a ball out of knee-high fescue without success, that he’d be posing Tuesday evening with a big cardboard check full of zeroes?

“What this means is incredible,” Reilly said. “I work at a public course. I don’t make the high salary. These are tough economic times. This is just unbelievable. It happened at the right time, let’s put it that way.”

Heckuva story.

--Joe Juliano