Last weekend Marcus Plunkett did something that may have been a first for a West Point graduate or at the least a rarity.
He earned an exemption to play as a professional in a Korn-Ferry Tour event.
Plunkett will play in the BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville and Spartanburg starting on June 9th.
“I’m extremely happy about this,” said Plunkett. “It is a dream I have had since I was a kid and now I get to play in my first professional tournament,” he said.
Plunkett shot rounds of 6-under par 66 and 3-under par 68 to finish on top of a field of local aspiring Tour players at Thornblade Club, referred to as the Thornblade All-Stars.
While the field wasn’t as big as a Monday qualifier, the All-Stars, who are generously granted playing privileges at the club, included local pros who have been on PGA Tours in Canada and Latin America. A couple have played in regular Tour events and one won a USGA National championship.
There have not been many graduates from any of the service academies who have gone on to success in professional sports.
NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who graduated from The Naval Academy, is the most notable.
While West Point has not produced championship golfers it did produce one of the most influential golfers of all time.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Class of 1915, did as much to popularize the game as an every-man golfer as anyone.
When he became president, his affinity for golf often put him on the tee with Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, and comedian Bob Hope. the biggest stars of the time.
His interest in the game helped to popularize golf beyond the country club set in the late 1950s and set the stage for the growth of the game in the 1960s.
Plunkett, who graduated from the Academy 101 years after Eisenhower, has always wanted to chase his dream of playing professional golf.
At Army, he was a team captain his senior year and was a three-time first-team all-conference golfer in the Patriot League.
He is most proud of being named to the All Patriot League 25th Anniversary All-Star team.
Playing golf at West Point, like other sports, is second to the academics and rigorous physical training cadets go through.
“We got to practice three and half to four hours a day if we were lucky. Military service and academics and physical training came first. It was constraining, but we all made the most of it. I love every Army golfer even if I haven’t met them,” he said.
With Plunkett’s college record, if he had been a golfer anywhere but the Academy, he would have graduated and immediately tried to earn some status on Tour.
Instead as a commissioned second lieutenant, Plunkett began his five-year commitment to the Army following his graduation.
“I was deployed to Korea, spent time in Colorado, and then I was lucky to deploy to Afghanistan as logistic support for the 10th Special Forces group. I’m not SF or a Green Beret, but I was there to assist with logistics,” he said of his six-month tour in Afghanistan.
In the classic 1970 movie “M-A-S-H”, one of the scenes has the leading characters, who are Army doctors in a Korean War forward area hospital, hitting golf balls from a helicopter landing pad.
“We were a little too busy for any golf. Someone left some old Goodwill clubs behind and I hit a few balls, but we were too busy to do anything, but our mission,” he said.
When he returned to the states he completed his time in Colorado and then had to decide what would be next.
“In Colorado, I knew I needed to move somewhere a little warmer. My cousin’s wife is from here and she said Greenville is the best and that was good enough for me. My girlfriend and I threw all our stuff in a U-Haul and drove out here,” he recalled.
Once he got to town he needed advice as to who could help him get his professional career going.
One of Plunkett’s Army buddies suggested Tommy (Biershenk) at Legacy Pines.
“I got a call one day from a guy who said he was an Army vet and he wanted to be a professional golfer,” recalled Biershenk. “My first thought was, yeah right, wishful thinking, there is a lot more to it than you think,” he said.
Plunkett emailed and called again and the two set up a lesson at the course in Mauldin.
“It took about 15 minutes of hitting balls and I could see he had the natural ability to make it. He is tall, in great shape and had a natural swing. It was easy to see he was talented,” he said.
Biershenk played both the previous edition of the Korn-Ferry Tour as well as the PGA Tour during his professional career.
He is an instructor for some of the most talented college golfers in and around Upstate South Carolina.
“I could see he had so much ability and was a really humble guy who wanted to learn and chase his dream,” Biershenk offered.
The two get together every couple of weeks. Biershenk helped get him into the All-Star program at Thornblade and in the last few weeks, some of the things the two have worked on clicked and produced results.
After being in Greenville for about a year, Plunkett scored his first major professional golf accomplishment when he finished as an alternate at the US Open Sectional qualifying tournament at the Columbia County Club.
“I was in a three for one playoff spot, I am the second alternate. If I get to go on that would be great, but I was happy with the way I was able to go out there and compete,” he said.
Plunkett’s good play continued in the special tournament at Thornblade to win the club’s Sponsors’ Exemption into the BMW Tournament.
He jumped out in front early in the first round and never looked back. His 8-under par 134 total won the tournament by 3-shots.
West Point golf coach Chad Bagley could only recall one other grad who tried to play professional golf after completing his military service.
“We are really proud of Marcus and what he is doing,” said Bagley. “It is great to see him getting a chance to fulfill his dream of playing professionally after he completed his service. We all will be pulling for him,” he said.
Plunkett now joins Johnny Travale from the University of Central Florida as golfers who have either won or been granted exemptions and been confirmed by the event. Travale won an exemption into the BMW with his win in the Carolina Intercollegiate last fall.
The Korn Ferry Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am will be played at the Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg and Thornblade Club in Greenville starting on June 9th .
The Tournament has yet to announce if ACC Champion and Conference Player of the Year Jacob Bridgeman from Clemson and Georgia’s 4-Time All-SEC First Team golfer Trent Phillips have been included in the field.
Both golfers grew up around Spartanburg, won state junior and high school championships in South Carolina and are now in the top-5 of the PGA University rankings.
Regardless of whether the two college stars from the Upstate make the field, local golf fans at least now have one player in the field to cheer for at this year’s BMW.
“I’m extremely happy. This will be my first (Korn-Ferry) tournament as I chase down a childhood dream. I couldn’t be more excited for it,” concluded Plunkett.