Iowan Judd Gibb’s Completes a Long and Winding Road to his First Major
By Bob Denney
PGA Historian Emeritus
The marine layer settling among the cypress trees at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco has cooled things this week for what will be a most unusual PGA Championship.
Yet it couldn’t be a more appropriate setting for PGA Professional Judd Gibb of Fort Dodge, Iowa, to make his major debut.
The 51-year-old PGA Head Professional at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course, who has suffered three near-misses trying to earn a PGA berth over a nearly 25-year career, got the break he needed in the midst of a pandemic. He will tee it up Thursday at 2:26 p.m. PT.
Gibb is employing veteran local caddie, Danny Pepsi, who has worked the 2011 U.S. Open and the 2017 Open Championship. It’s his PGA debut, too.Together, Gibb and Pepsi will drink in the major experience.
“It has been a strange three weeks,” said Gibb. “It began with worrying about the virus, then worrying if they would even have a (PGA) Championship. Once I got that (COVID-19) test on Sunday, I began thinking this was going to happen.”
The first Fort Dodge golfer to compete in one of golf’s four Grand Slam events, Gibb finished 17th in the 2019 PGA Professional Player of the Year standings. With the PGA Professional Championship canceled in June in Austin, Texas, new criteria determined the berths of 20 PGA Club Professionals in the PGA Championship.
Gibb earned enough points to play in the PGA by capturing his second Iowa PGA Section Championship, finishing T-25 in last year’s PGA Professional Championship and finishing runner-up in the Section Player of the Year race. Gibb is a five-time Section Player of the Year yet struggled over the closing holes of the PGA Professional Championship to miss a PGA berth in 2006, ’15 and last year.
The good news came via an announcement on his phone on June 29, as Gibb was in a pro-am at Sunnyside Country Club in Waterloo. “I said to myself, ‘you better start playing a little more golf.”
Gibb said he has enjoyed his practice rounds at TPC Harding Park, and that a spectator-less Championship will be oddly familiar. “With nobody out there,” he said, “it will have more the feel of a club pro championship except when you look around and see guys you see every week on TV.”
Gibb, whose given name is Edward, has used his middle name - Judd - since he was in grade school. His mother gave it to him and that he never asked why.
“I had an Uncle Ed, and I think the family got tired of us both looking at the same time when our names were called,” said Gibb. “Judd sounds more like a NASCAR driver. It’s easy to remember.”
Gibb began playing golf at age 7. Three PGA Professionals -- all at Fort Dodge Country Club -- had a role in Gibb’s development, including Bill Hurd—who Gibb called “Fort Dodge’s answer to Harvey Penick”— and head professional Craig Graham, who gave Gibb his first job in the bag room.
But the anchor of Gibb’s coaching tree was Terry Miller, who led the club’s junior program. Miller issued Gibb his first golf challenge.
“Terry told me, ‘If you can hit it past that 75-yard sign, I’ll buy you a bicycle,’ ” said Gibb. “I’ve yet to collect that bicycle and I remind Terry every time I see him. He’s retired and still lives in Fort Dodge. But, I’m not a biker now. I don’t trust the drivers in Fort Dodge that much.”
Gibb attended Iowa State University, captaining the Cyclones men’s golf team his senior year. “We had two fairly good years toward the end of my time at Iowa State, and they now have got a pretty good program going,” said Gibb. “I did have good memories until I look back and see the scores that I shot. When we played good, we went to Burger King and if we played bad, we went to McDonald’s. I don’t know why that was.”
Getting prepared for the PGA Championship in a pandemic was a family operation for Gibb. His wife, Mary, moved him to the basement for two weeks.
“My wife, daughter, Lauren, and son, Andrew, were out and about, and they practiced social distancing and wearing masks, but they also had to live with work and with their competing in sports,” said Gibb. Lauren, a seventh-grader, competes in volleyball, basketball and softball, while Andrew is a sophomore guard in basketball, having competed last season for Iowa Central Community College. He will attend Briar Cliff College in Sioux City this fall to play the No. 2 guard position.
“We thought it would be wise to lessen the risk for everyone,” said Gibb. “Our basement has a nice setup, so it wasn’t that bad.”
Prior to the pandemic, Gibb hoped that Andrew could caddie for him in the PGA Professional Championship and the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois, where Gibb had an exemption as the reigning Iowa PGA Section champion. Both events were canceled. Then, the PGA Championship berth opened, but that also spoiled a father-son connection.
“As we thought more about it,” said Gibb, “Had Andrew got the virus out here, he would have had to sit in a hotel room for two weeks. It would have ended all the hard work he put in to get ready for school.”
Over the past few days at TPC Harding Park, Gibb has relied on Pepsi for local knowledge.
“It is a really hard golf course for me, but I play within myself the best I can and plot my way around,” said Gibb. “It’s a wonderful golf course. If I was 20 years younger, it might suit my game better.”
As humble as Gibb is, and regardless of what happens this week in San Francisco, there’s one event on his calendar next spring where he will once again be in the spotlight. The Iowa Golf Association Hall of Fame will stage a dual class ceremony for the 2020 and 2021 honorees.
“It’s very humbling to have my name added to that list of greats in Iowa,” said Gibb, “and to join other ‘Dodgers’ in the Hall - Dave Sergeant, Rick Brown, Joe Brown and the Chapmans (Tom Sr. and Jr.).”
After a topsy turvy year, it’s time for Gibb’s peers to toast him.