Gibb’s major dream about to come true
Fort Dodge golfer making history as he prepares for PGA Championship
SAN FRANCISCO — Judd Gibb thought he was practicing by himself on the putting greens at TPC Harding Park when he suddenly felt a presence.
“I got kind of a weird feeling, looked up, and there was Tiger Woods,” said Gibb, who is making history this week as the first Fort Dodge resident ever to play in a major championship on the PGA Tour. “We were putting in the same area. It’s not like he told me to ‘get away from my hole’ or anything, but he did give me this look, as if to say, ‘I’m here, so…’
“Even without fans this week (due to the global pandemic), there were still people around him, including one bigger guy who looked like he was maybe a body guard. And the last thing I wanted to do was roll a ball into Tiger’s heel or something. So I quietly moved to a different spot to practice.”
This is the kind of story the 51-year-old Gibb will be telling his friends and family for the rest of his life. The 1987 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate tees off in Thursday’s PGA Championship on hole No. 10 at 2:26 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (4:26 in Iowa).
It will be a groundbreaking experience for Gibb, a six-time PGA Iowa Section player of the year and an Iowa Golf Association Hall of Fame inductee next month. He’s competed in professional events before, including the John Deere Classic in the Quad Cities multiple times.
This is a whole new ballgame, though.
“It’s a lot of fun ‘rubbing shoulders’ so to speak, with Tiger or Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka,” said Gibb, a former Iowa State University team captain and assistant coach. “It’s a little surreal, and I’m still getting used to the idea of no spectators. But I’ve been on the course a few times to get a feel for the lay of the land. It’s interesting to stand next to the guys you normally just see on TV.
“We’ve had a lot of incredible golfers come through Fort Dodge. Dave (Sergeant) has played in the U.S. Senior Open twice. To be the ‘first’ of anything, given the rich tradition of this community, doesn’t happen very often. It’s really special, and something I take a great deal of pride in.”
Gibb is paired with Mark Hubbard, a 31-year-old PGA Tour member from Denver, and Lucas Herbert, a 24-year-old European Tour regular from Australia.
“I know I’ll be nervous, but as an athlete, that’s a good sign. To me, that means you’re ready,” Gibb said. “Usually those nerves go away after you make a putt and get settled in. But given the magnitude of the event and the length and difficulty of the course, there’s probably more anxiety than normal with this (tournament).
“This course is set up to challenge the best in the world, and I’m obviously not one of those players. So we’ll just see how it goes.”
Gibb said the course doesn’t seem extraordinarily long on paper, measuring at 7,290 yards. It’s a par-72 layout.
“The air is really heavy, and it’s been either windy, cold or both since I got here,” said Gibb, who arrived late Saturday and logged practice rounds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. “It’s hard to describe, but the ball just doesn’t carry.
“The 12th hole is about 500 yards, and the other day I hit a really good drive. I still had 254 to the flag for my second shot. Number 8 is a 250-yard par-3. Koepka or Johnson might be hitting a four-iron there, but I can’t do that. Maybe if I were 15 or 20 years younger, I’d be able to keep up a little better. But these guys are carrying the ball 300 yards (off the tee). Out here, given the conditions especially, I’m closer to the 260 range.”
Gibb also called the rough on the course “brutal.”
“If you miss the fairway by a few yards, it’s thick and gnarly. You pretty much have to just hack out of it and lay up,” said Gibb, the director of instruction and tournament coordinator at Lakeside Golf Course and a Ping Golf Tech representative. “If you miss it by more, it’s not quite as bad, but then you have trees to deal with.
“Obviously, as is the case in every golf tournament, it’s all about staying out of trouble and hitting fairways and greens.”
Gibb was assigned a local caddie who regularly works with Brandon Wu on the Korn Ferry Tour.
“He’s caddied for a lot of guys on the PGA Tour and knows this course well,” Gibb said. “I got lucky. He just happened to have this week off and was available.
“On Sunday night, we were on the tee box and he was telling me where to hit relative to a bunker on the left side (off the fairway). I just laughed and said, ‘just tell me to aim at the damn thing. I’m not hitting it that far.'”
Gibb officially qualified for the PGA Championship by finishing in the Top-20 in the Professional Player of the Year standings. The qualifying event was canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, meaning players advanced based on their season-long point totals.
Gibb stood at No. 17 nationally for 2019 at 557.5 points. He secured spots in both the PGA John Deere Classic and the Senior PGA Championship for 2020, but both events were called off because of the pandemic.
“Last year, I made a lot of those putts that you need to make. My game was solid,” said Gibb, who is listed as +100000 to win the event (1,000-to-1) at a Las Vegas sportsbook. “I’m not exactly at that point (this season). That’s just the nature of golf — the highs and lows.
“This course is pretty humbling, and will probably wear me out (by Friday). It’s so long that you can very easily get out of rhythm. I can’t try and do too much, and I have to make some putts. I’m realistic at this point about just embracing the opportunity to play and enjoying the ride.”
Gibb and his wife, Mary, live in Fort Dodge. They have a son, Andrew, and daughter, Lauren.