Alumnus ensures 2013 U.S. Open goes off without a hitch

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As did most fledgling golfers in the mid-1990s, Penn State alumnus Sean Palmer grew up admiring Tiger Woods, one of the most successful golfers in the history of the sport. So when, decades later, Woods arrived at the Merion Golf Club on the outskirts of Philadelphia to practice for the U.S. Open (set to take place at the club from June 13 to 16), Palmer — now a first assistant golf professional — was more than pleased.

"Working with Tiger was amazing," said Palmer, who in 2007 earned a bachelor's degree in the Penn State College of Health and Human Development's recreation, park, and tourism management program with the PGA Golf Management option. "It was a bit surreal at first to be in such close quarters with him, but after a while it felt like walking around with anyone else. I have tremendous respect for what he has accomplished as a golfer and his positive impact on the growth of the game."

In his position as first assistant golf professional, Palmer runs daily golf events at the Merion Golf Club, promotes the game of golf, teaches the game, administers golf shop merchandise and sales, plays in local professional tournaments and much more.

For the U.S. Open, he is responsible for scheduling the club's entire golf staff of 42 employees — including five assistant golf professionals, all of whom are Penn State PGA Golf Management program alumni — to help in different positions during the U.S. Open, the national championship for the United States Golf Association (USGA). Among their duties, the professionals (2006 graduate George Forster; 2010 graduates Matt Bird and Bill Ciccotti; 2011 graduate David Trude; and 2013 graduate Michael Ursomarso) are assigning golf cars to media, staff and committee members; registering players; working with players to set their practice-round tee times; managing shuttles to ensure players get to their starting locations on time; introducing players and their caddies to a course they may never have played before; working as starters on the first tee; announcing groups to patrons; and ensuring that groups start on time.

Graduates of Penn State's turfgrass programs — the largest turfgrass curriculum in the country — also have been busy overseeing the course. Matt Shaffer, alumnus of Penn State's Golf Course Turfgrass Management program, is the director of golf course operations at Merion Golf Club.

Palmer, who grew up in New Tripoli, Pa., said he would not have the opportunity to be involved in such an exciting event if it weren't for his degree from Penn State.

"Penn State's PGA Golf Management program is the best in the country, hands down," Palmer said. "It is by far the most professional and, in my opinion, does the most to groom young people to excel in our industry. This is how I got to where I am today, and it has snowballed into excellent opportunities with Penn Staters all along the way."

According to Burch Wilkes, director of the PGA Golf Management program, students in the program must complete five internships to help prepare them for their chosen career path in the golf industry as PGA professionals. The program's staff helps students connect with alumni to get those internships. 

"Sean was a dedicated and motivated student at Penn State," said Wilkes. "As an alumnus, Sean inherited great responsibility this year and has grown as a leader with his staff of five other Penn State alumni. He is an outstanding representative of Penn State and the Merion Golf Club. We are very proud of him and the other Penn State alumni."

The U.S. Open began on Thursday, June 13. Palmer said the day was a bit hectic; he raced around, issued orders and smoothed out hiccups to ensure that the event ran smoothly. But come 1:14 p.m., when Tiger Woods prepared to tee off, Palmer was there watching and waiting for Woods to make history once again.

For more information about the PGA Golf Management program at Penn State, go to: http://www.hhd.psu.edu/rptm/pgm.

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Last Updated June 14, 2013