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Second stage

How former PGA Tour pro Pat Burke has transitioned from the competitive golf grind to teaching — and making a difference in children’s lives.

By Eli Miller; Photos by Eddie MeeksPublished: October, 2009

Pat Burke lived the life of a touring professional for an eventful 15 years. He contended for a few PGA Tour titles, won a pair of prominent events in Australia and did his best to overcome a wrist injury at the end of his career. He also was never shy — a trait that persists today — and sometimes made headlines for being outspoken about PGA Tour management.

“It was practice, play golf, practice again, beat your head against the wall, maybe work out, and then you go to your hotel,” Burke says of his professional days. “I don’t miss the tour lifestyle at all. I miss the lifestyle it afforded, but it’s just sort of miserable out there.”

Now 47 years old, the Coto de Caza resident still has golf as the focal point of his career. But he’s traded the grind of competition for teaching, a role he finds more rewarding and comfortable.

Burke divides his time between working with students at Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club and directing instruction at Get A Grip Foundation, which is based at Hidden Valley Golf Club in Norco. The nonprofit organization instills the importance of education among Inland Empire youths while teaching golf and the life skills associated with the sport.

“A typical day would be giving lessons at Coto, heading over to Get A Grip for some meetings and making a few adjustments to the program, teaching, and then going home,” he says. “The best part about that whole story is going home. This is a lot more me.”

It was serendipitous that Burke, who grew up in New Jersey, became involved with the organization, but not surprising that he ended up in instruction. His grandfather was Ben Toski, the older brother of touring pro and renowned teacher Bob Toski, and both of his parents were PGA professionals who worked at Deal Golf and Country Club in New Jersey.

Regularly hanging out at Deal made golf “second nature” for Burke, although the sport he adored most growing up was hockey. By the time he reached his late teens, he shifted his focus to golf since his stature — 5-foot-5 — didn’t bode well for competing in the sport at higher levels, especially since he was a goaltender.

With an impressive foundation in golf and loads of natural talent, Burke moved to Southern California at 18 and settled in Azusa, working as an assistant superintendent at Friendly Hills Country Club in Whittier. He played on the golf team at Citrus College and later at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Though being a touring pro was never a lifelong dream, Burke has always considered himself a competitor, and instead of transferring to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo to finish his education, he embarked on a life as a tour professional in the late 1980s.

“A guy at my dad’s club offered to sponsor me if I wanted to turn pro. It was a pretty good deal, and I had the time,” Burke says. “Everybody wants to be out on tour, but I wasn’t necessarily planning on it — I was trying to get an education. But it worked out.”

His first few years were spent bouncing around the PGA, Golden State and Ben Hogan tours, and he discovered his top form playing in Australia in 1994, winning both the Australian Tournament Players Championship and the Victoria Open. He was a regular on the PGA Tour from 1995 through 1997, earning more than $500,000. His most prominent highlights came in 1996, when he held the third-round lead at the Bay Hill Invitational and tied for third at the B.C. Open, his best career finish.

Even during his competitive heyday, there were signs Burke was suited to life as a golf instructor, not a tour pro. He had fun at pro-am events, where socializing with his amateur playing partners and helping them play better — supplying swing tips and reading putts, for example — worked out well for him and his team.

“It was playing in those things that I told myself, ‘I’m good at this. This is fun,’” Burke says.

And while he was friendly with plenty of tour pros, he counted few of them as good friends. The two he remains in touch most with are Fred Funk and fellow Coto de Caza resident Paul Goydos. As someone who worked prior to turning pro, Burke was more inclined to endear himself to caddies and equipment company employees, part of the traveling proletariat on the PGA Tour.

The beginning of Burke’s end as a touring pro came during the 1997 Greater Hartford Open, when he hit a ball out of a bush and injured his right wrist. It took several medical opinions to determine Burke had torn the extensor tendon in his right wrist, damaging a joint in the process. He would need surgery, and despite having a decent season on the Tour in 2000, he gave up the competitive grind in 2002.

Burke latched on to a golf event management company while searching for a venue to become a golf instructor. The search took longer than expected, but in May 2005 a friend recommended he call Cresta Verde Golf Course in Corona. While Burke was talking with head professional Mike Sharp on the phone, Jay Miller, the course manager, overheard Pat’s name in the conversation.

“Jay says, ‘Is this Pat Burke, the tour player?’ I go, ‘Well, it’s Pat Burke, the former tour player.’ He tells me I need to come out here,” Burke recalls.

At that point, Burke had never even heard of Get A Grip, which had been open for about five years. When Burke took a tour of Cresta Verde and discovered what the program was about, he was instantly hooked and wanted to help. Instead of paying Cresta Verde to use the facility for his private lessons, Burke paid rent by teaching juniors a few times a week at Get A Grip.

By the end of the year, Miller was looking to make a change in how golf instruction was run at the foundation. He turned to Burke, who’s been the director of instruction ever since, further improving the program as its headquarters moved to Hidden Valley, which Miller now oversees.

Working with Get A Grip executive director Mike Davis, Burke sought to restructure the program so kids received more individualized attention both in the classroom and on the driving range. The golf clinics have been reorganized to group golfers together based on ability, and a revolving golf instructor system ensures juniors have more familiarity with educators and cooperation with their peers, as opposed to working exclusively with one instructor. Thanks to a more cohesive structure, the program has been able to increase membership from 240 to 270 kids this year.

“Pat has brought consistency, professionalism and uniformity to our teaching methods across the board,” Miller says. “I have been around golf for 45 years, and to think that a man with his playing experience and teaching ability is part of our foundation is a total blessing.”

Being at Get A Grip has helped Burke as a golf instructor, in addition to being a better motivator and life coach. He says there are plenty of model students from stable families that come into the program, but there also are troubled students with indifferent — and even abusive — parents. Most of the time, it’s about education and golf, but sometimes it becomes about imparting decent behavior skills in order to help the children flourish.

“When you’re teaching golf for a living, you’re helping people get better at golf, and that’s cool,” Burke says. “But at Get A Grip, you’re changing kids’ lives, and how often do you get to do that?”

Burke’s golf background has enhanced his reputation as a private instructor, and he’s building a solid base of students at Coto de Caza despite the shaky economy.

Ultimately, Burke would like to open a golf school, perhaps utilizing Get A Grip’s model. He cares about emphasizing education, though he’s also concerned about the state of golf in America.

“Obviously, we want to promote education and get kids on track for life. But let’s face it, you’ve got to start putting programs together that grow golf down the road,” he says. “Because the game is stagnant.”

Despite a solid start to the second phase of his golf career, Burke admits, “If I hadn’t gotten hurt, I’d probably still be playing, trying to figure out how to beat somebody.”

He has no intentions of trying to qualify for the Champions Tour, and if he ever decided to become competitive again, it would be on the European Senior Tour, he said, so that it would enable him to have a lifetime experience and allow his daughter Jaime, 15, to visit him while on breaks from college.

Born: March 17, 1962 (St. Patrick’s Day)
Birthplace: Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Residence: Coto de Caza
Family: Wife, Jody; daughter, Jaime
You may not know: Burke suffers from panic disorder, a condition that was alleviated during his playing career by Orange County-based PGA pro Dr. David Wright
Favorite golfer: Tiger Woods
Favorite sports team: NHL’s New York Rangers

Readers Feedback:

Great artical.
Comment at 1/8/2010
Way to go Patrick. Sounds like you are doing something very rewarding and you actually enjoy it. My passion became medicine and haven't touched a golf club much since my days playing with your brother mike at Deal.
Comment at 2/23/2010
Iknew Pat as an 8 year old when he spent the summer in Adams, MA. with his grandfather, golf teacher, Ben Toski with whom i worked for for 3 years. Pat and i would play every afternoon as i was 17 at the time and his grandpa wanted me to look out for him. He had one of the smoothest swings i ever saw at only 8 and was shooting in the low 80's at that time.Funny i now live outside of Fort Lauderdale where he was born and at times would run into his granda in Hollywood where he lived. I once went to the Honda Classic in Weston Hills to watch Pat as he was atop the leader board but did not have the courage to say high. Wishing him and his family the best
Comment at 4/11/2011
I just wanted to say hello to Pat. I haven't seen him in many years. I have seen his brother Mike more recently though. I played on Pat's high school hockey and golf teams. Ps. Pats dad taught me how to play golf. If you can forward this to Pat i would appreciate it. thanks Rich
Comment at 5/20/2011