It’s no surprise that Canajoharie Country Club head pro Ian Breen has won the Northeastern New York PGA’s Roland Stafford Sportsmanship Award.
Breen, one of the nicest and most even-tempered guys in the section, never complains, and always thinks positively. He’s the kind of person who sees the glass half-full instead of half-empty, and that’s not easy when you’re involved in the up-and-down golf world. Some days, you make birdies, and others, you make bogeys. It’s never the same.
But the 35-year-old Lake Placid native considers himself fortunate in more ways than one.
Sure, some people think that because Breen is in the golf business, all he does is chase the little round ball around every day. And it’s true that he does compete more than some club professionals do.
Yet Breen also is grateful that he’s been able to battle his health concerns and still be productive.
A two-time cancer survivor, Breen only discusses his health problems when pressed.
“It’s nothing I really like to bring up,” he said. “The first time I got cancer, I was 14 years old, and I got it in my leg. I was in remission for 20 years, but then I got a recurrence two years ago, and I had to have one-third of my lung removed.
“I was super lucky,” he said. “I’ve had two surgeries on my leg and three on my lungs, yet I haven’t had to undergo any chemotherapy. I had two rare cancerous tumors, but they haven’t come back, and I’m in good health right now.”
Despite his health concerns, Breen has continued with all of his multiple duties as the Canajoharie CC head pro for the last five years.
“Ian has been an absolute joy to work with,” said Canajoharie owner Eric Woods. “He is a very professional young man. He’s not only an excellent player, but he has great knowledge of the game. The members like him, the greens superintendent likes him and everyone likes him. He’s just a pleasure to be around.”
Woods, a former insurance salesman for Colonial until he bought Canajoharie CC seven years ago, makes it a point to play a casual round with his head pro from time to time, and he’s seen Breen’s skill and temperament first-hand.
“We went out Thursday, and he shot seven-under-par without having played for several months. That’s not bad,” Woods said.
Breen was fourth in the
NENYPGA point standings last year. He also won the section’s match play championship, considered a major championship among the pros, a few years ago, and has been a member of the professional team in the last few Gazette Cup events against the area amateurs.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to get away and play. My owner’s been good to me,” Breen said. “He lets me play in any tournament that I want to. I’m still single, and I don’t have a family, so I get an opportunity to play more than the average club pro does. I take advantage of that, and I’m always working on my game pretty hard.”
Breen considers himself a solid ball-striker.
“The strongest part of my game is from tee to green,” he said. “My putting comes and goes. Sometimes, I feel good with the putter, and sometimes, I don’t, but I usually can hit the ball pretty well.”
Breen said he is thrilled to be named the Roland Stafford Award recipient. The late Stafford was once one of the best club pros in the section, and ran his own golf school in the Catskills.
“It’s something completely unexpected. I met him once when I was working at Glens Falls Country Club, and he was a real nice guy. It was a neat experience for me, and that’s why I appreciate getting this award so much.”
Breen started playing golf when he was 12 years old, and competed for the Saranac High School golf team. He won the sectionals in high school, and then played varsity golf at Ithaca College.
Since he worked in a pro shop while in college, a friend suggested that he try the golf business.
“I was a history major, and I tried student teaching for a while. I just didn’t like it, so I decided to give golf a try,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career. Golf is not something I
always thought about. In fact, it was the last sport I picked up as a kid. I played Little League baseball and hockey first.”
But when Breen established himself in the golf business, he found it hard to give up. He was an
assistant pro at Schuyler Meadows in 1996 and 1997 before getting a job at Glens Falls Country Club from 1998 through 2000. He also worked as an assistant pro at Olde Kinderhook in 2001-02 before taking the head pro job at Canajoharie CC.
“I don’t think I’m too much different than a lot of the other club pros. There are very few of us who jump in and say that we’ve never thought of trying something else. But every year, we get drawn back. I love the game too much to give it up.”
By the way, both Breen and Woods invite golfers to play their course.
“Our greens weathered the winter beautifully,” said Woods. “From my point of view, this course provides a challenge, but it is agreeable to all level of players, from beginners, to intermediates to lower handicaps. We have challenges, but the course is playable, and we have a great view.”
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