One of Stadium Golf Club head pro John Souza 's favorite hobbies is road racing, but despite numerous personal challenges, he has finally stopped running away from a major career hurdle.
Although Souza has fulfilled his teaching, pro-shop and administrative responsibilities at the busy public course for the last seven years, he wasn't a full-fledged member of the Professional Golf Association -- until now.
Souza earned his PGA Class A card this winter and now enjoys all of the perks from that achievement, including playing in Northeastern New York PGA events. As a non-member pro, Souza wasn't eligible to play in local club tournaments.
"This feels great," said the 34-year-old Souza . "When I got the results from my test, I had that feeling of pride. I was so happy to get this done and out of the way. I'm finally able to wear the PGA logo and the pin. I've got my Class A plaque on the wall," he said.
"I felt like such a dunce for a very long time. I was such a loser. I kept wondering why I just didn't get it all together and get this part of my career done. Now, it kind of legitimizes my career in my own mind. Having gone through the PGA certification process, I've learned that there is so much more I can offer to people at the course."
Souza was on track to get his Class A card when he originally became the head pro at Stadium back in 2005.
"My relationship with Stadium started after I got out of college," said the Poughkeepsie native and Arlington High School graduate. "I was a finance major at St. Bonaventure, but I never played on the college team. I actually tried to get on the college team, but I couldn't get a tryout at the time.
"So eventually, I started working at Stadium on weekends as something to do after I got out of college. It was a way of getting
some free golf. Scott Blanchard was the head pro at the time, and he kind of gave me a part-time job where I could make my own schedule."
Souza played a lot of golf with Blanchard, and the two players were competitive. When Blanchard eventually let his assistant pro go, he asked Souza to start working with him in the pro shop. Souza agreed.
"Eventually, Scott also asked me to take the PGA Playing Test to get into the
apprentice program, and I finally did," Souza explained.
"Normally, you have two years to complete each level of the PGA accreditation. Most local pros do it in six years. But when I first started working for Scott, I was still between two jobs. I couldn't devote myself fully to the PGA. Then, I got married, and I had even less time to devote to trying to get my card."
In 2005, Blanchard gave his notice, and Stadium owner Greg Hennel asked Souza to take over the job as head pro.
"All of a sudden, I no longer had a sense of urgency," Souza said. "I had just fallen into a great full-time job, and everything was working out well."
Souza began to fulfill his job responsibilities at Stadium and didn't spend much time working toward his PGA card.
"I was delinquent. I said to myself that I would eventually get it done, but I was learning the job, and starting a new family. Getting the card wasn't a big priority for me any longer."
Several local club professionals, and local clubmaker Dick Bogdan urged Souza to get his PGA card, and Bogdan even offered to help with some of the book work.
Eventually, Souza had enough of feeling like less than a full-fledged club professional.
"I felt like I finally wanted to join the PGA fraternity. Even though a lot of the guys were accepting of me and my role as a non-mem
ber pro, I wanted to get my card," he said. "I couldn't play in any of the tournaments with the guys, and I didn't really feel like a pro.
"What motivated me was that I received a letter from the PGA in 2008. The letter said that I had only eight years from the original start of the program to complete my studies, or I would have had to stat all over. That was the turning point for me," he said.
"I took that letter from the PGA and posted it on my bulletin board at home."
Souza hit the books hard and recently returned from Florida where he took his final tests.
"Through it all, my wife, Courtney, was very supportive," he said. "Never once did she complain when I was doing my book work, finishing up the process or filming lessons and studying. At the time I was finishing up, we already had a 3-year-old and a newborn."
Souza is a devoted family man and tries to spend as much time as possible with his wife and his two children, 4-year-old William and 15-month-old Caroline.
He also bowls in the off-season and runs in
numerous road races, like the annual Gazette Stockade-athon.
But he knows that in order to be the kind of club pro he always wanted to be he needed to be an accredited Class A member of the PGA.
"I wanted to feel legitimate, and I finally do," he said. "I wanted to be like Jeremy Kerr and Matt Daley at Mohawk Golf Club, Brian Damon at Schenectady Municipal and Brian Pierotti. They are all either head pros or assistant pros who have their Class A cards.
"I've already put every tournament date in my phone and on my calendar. I plan on playing in everything, even though I've got a little tendonitis.
"It will be cool to finally be a full participant in PGA events and to be back in the loop," he said.
"It's really special for me. I would say it's an awesome feeling."