CHASKA — A crowd of 75 family, friends and long-ago competitors cheered as they watched Wayzata High School alumna Sarah Burnham make the cut June 21 at the KPMG PGA Championship.
It was her first time playing professional golf in her home state.
Burnham, 23, narrowly qualified for the championship after tying for 33rd in the Meijer LPGA Classic. She earned $13,208, which was $3 enough to play in the championship.
“I was the last one to make it into this event, so I was just so happy, I couldn’t believe it,” said the Maple Grove native.
She set a goal of making the cut to play Saturday and Sunday, which she did, after scoring one under par on Friday. When the weekend’s rounds came to a close, she placed 78th overall with 15 strokes over par.
Minnesotans who remembered her prowess in high school traveled to support her.
“It’s so nice to come out and have their support,” she said. “I feel like the Minnesota community as a whole is a family, and they’re just out here to support me.”
Burnham last played the Hazeltine National Golf Club course six years ago. In 2009, she watched Tiger Woods tee off on the 18th hole at the PGA Championship.
Her father, Kurt Burnham, said a Minnesotan achieving this level of success is a rarity.
“How many Minnesotans are in the pro circuit?” he said. “I think it’s important for the northern kids to see you can actually make it by playing in the north.”
Kurt got his daughter started playing golf at age 9. When she beat him at 13 years old, he swapped roles for caddy. She entered the varsity team in seventh grade.
Wayzata High School Girls Golf Coach Mike Schumacher remembers her first early morning practices in the dome. She was first one on the field and the last one to leave, he said. Burnham maintained that ethic through her six years on the team, while fine-tuning her golfing skills.
Schumacher recalls driving to an early-season tournament with the varsity team — all older high school students, along with seventh-grade Burnham who sat in the backseat.
“And from the backseat I hear her call out, ‘Hey Coach, do you think it’s cold enough to affect the game by one club, or two clubs?’” he said. “And for a middle schooler to learn how temperatures will affect the game is really impressive.”
Her maturity in her swing and approach to the game, he said, propelled her to an elite-player status at a young age.
“Sitting back and watching that was an awesome feeling as a coach,” he said. “And you start thinking about what she could possibly do beyond college. And lo and behold, here she is on the tour.”
One tactic Burnham still carries from her high school days: Getting a song in her head on the course to remain calm and concentrated. She and her father Kurt listen to music with the volume up on their way to tournaments.
Both Kurt and Sarah say it was mid-way through her time playing for Michigan State that they realized she could play with the pros. By the time she graduated with a degree in finance, she had become a two-time Big 10 Player of the Year.
The demanding travel schedule has been challenging for Sarah to get used to, said her mom, Patty Burnham. But as a family, they have watched her confidence grow though her rookie season.
“Making the cut last week was exciting,” Patty said. “It’s been a whirlwind.”