Portz thanks Springfield for helping him reach first PGA Tour event

Kenton Ridge grad to tee off in Greenbrier Classic on Thursday

One day before the Greenbrier Classic, Clayton Portz looked back on the long road that took him from Kenton Ridge High School to Northern Kentucky University to his PGA Tour debut.

Portz, 22, will tee off at 9 a.m. Thursday with two veteran golfers: Steven Alker, 45, and Jonathan Byrd, 39. Older golfers in Springfield played a big part in Portz getting to this point.

“Springfield’s been such a supportive community,” Portz said Wednesday. “Really even before I was in high school, a lot of guys at Reid Park and Snyder Park, the support I’ve had from them since I was a kid, playing with those guys, it’s been unbelievable. I’ve heard from a lot of them already this week. I’m sure a couple of them are going to come down. Springfield has meant to the world to me. I couldn’t have made it this far without the support.”

Portz, a 2012 Kenton Ridge graduate, played for the Cougars’ state championship team in 2011 and finished third at state as an individual that season. He finished sixth at the Horizon League tournament as a senior at NKU in 2016.

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Portz earned a spot in the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., by shooting a 69 in the Monday qualifier at Glade Springs Golf Course in Daniels, W.V. That was one shot behind Y.E. Yang, the 2009 PGA Championship winner.

Portz played nine holes in the rain Wednesday at the Old White TPC Course at the Greenbrier to prepare for the opening round. He knows the course because he played there in a college event in 2016, placing 39th with a score of 72-79-71—222.

Playing in two Web.com Tour events this year — the United Leasing and Finance Championship in Newburgh, Ind., in April and the Rust-Oleum Championship in Ivanhoe, Ill., in June — also helped prepare him for his first PGA event.

“It’s not like I’m stepping into an atmosphere that’s completely new,” Portz said. “It’s nothing I’m not used to. I’ve been here before. There’s a little bit of familiarity, even though they’ve made some changes to the course. I feel a little more comfortable than I thought I would. It’s a step up from the Web.com Tour, but it’s all run the same. It’s all the same process.”

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Of course, Portz is now sharing a locker room with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Angel Cabrera, to name a few of the Greenbrier participants.

Portz hoped to get a chance to meet Mickelson and Lee Trevino, who he saw in the locker room Wednesday. He’ll have to put all the famous golfers out of his mind when he starts play Thursday.

“I think over the last year I’ve played with so many people who have played on the PGA tour, everybody has become more real to me,” Portz said. “They’re not necessarily just the guys I see on TV anymore. They’re more or less peers. Now that I’m here, there’s a comfort level.”

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Portz started his pro career a year ago with the help of investors. He announced in April 2016 he was hoping to raise $50,000 to help him pay to enter events on the Swing Thought Tour and other mini tours. He lived in Charlotte last year to concentrate on those tournaments.

“I got most of it through some investors,” Portz said. “Then I had to put some money in myself. I got most of them to reinvest for this year, and I had to put a little money in myself. I was a little insecure. That’s part of the reason I was playing more aggressively this year. I moved back to Ohio specifically to focus on these qualifiers. I wasn’t sure how much longer the investment thing would work. I didn’t have any more personal money to put into it. I just figured I had to go hard or go home.”

Portz has competed in 12 or 13 Monday qualifiers this year for PGA or Web.com Tour events. He has now qualified three times. He missed the cut at the two Web.com events. His goal is to make it to the weekend at the Greenbrier and finish strong.

“I obviously want a good finish,” Portz said. “That would just jump start my career, and hopefully, I could get some sponsors and keep getting experience. Really the past couple months have been a big jump start to my career, but this week alone would help a lot.”

Portz said his dad Greer and girlfriend Maddy High, also a Kenton Ridge graduate, will watch him play Thursday. His mom Sheila won’t be able to make it until Saturday, which gives him another reason to want to make the cut. All three have played a big part in his golf career.

“My dad taught me the game from the time before I could walk,” Portz said. “My mom’s always supportive. My girlfriend has been everything from my mental coach to my biggest cheerleader.”

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