Patrick Oropallo, an aspiring golf professional, dined with his girlfriend and another golfer. The players had each shot well enough over 36 holes that day to pass their playing ability test, a requirement to enter the PGA of America apprentice program.

Patrick Oropallo, an aspiring golf professional, dined with his girlfriend and another golfer. The players had each shot well enough over 36 holes that day to pass their playing ability test, a requirement to enter the PGA of America apprentice program.

They were tired and hungry and curious.

What, they wondered, is going to happen next?

That was seven years ago. For Oropallo, it was two kids ago. It was full-time work, two promotions and increased responsibilities ago.

"And I was married in there somewhere," he chuckles.

The girlfriend at the table that night is now his wife, Rhiannon. They now know the answer to that question.

"Life happens," says Patrick.

And that's why it was so special when he recently completed the program and became an official member of the PGA of America during a ceremony last month in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Oropallo didn't need to spend the time or the funds to finish. He already had a job he coveted as the head pro at Eagle Point Golf Club (he's since been promoted to general manager).

But he wasn't raised to be a quitter, either. He lost his father in a logging accident six months before he was born, and his family persevered despite modest means as he grew up in Ashland.

Following through only seemed natural.

"It was the culmination of hard work and perseverance to achieve what really was a lifelong goal for me," says Oropallo. "It symbolizes a lot. There was a lot of opportunity to throw in the towel, or just quit at any point. I'm proud of myself for sticking it out and continuing to press on."

Oropallo has heard of people finishing the program in two years. The maximum allowed is eight years.

Life happens.

Oropallo played four years on the Ashland High team and was its top player as a senior. He went to work at Eagle Point so he could get free golf, all the while harboring dreams of playing professionally. But those plans were redirected to the PGA program, in part through the encouragement of then-pro Jeremy Dunkason.

Oropallo breezed through the first couple tasks.

He took the playing ability test the same day as former South Medford player Noah Horstman at Emerald Valley in Creswell. Oropallo recorded a pair of 74s for a 148 total — well under the target score of 163.

Horstman did likewise, making their dinner that night quite enjoyable.

"It was nice to pass that the first time," says Oropallo. "Some guys struggle with that. It's 36 holes and you have to shoot a number. It can be nerve-wracking for some, but I had a lot of experience with competitive golf."

The next step was to pass a rules test. Again, he nailed it the first time.

Then came the guts of the program.

Oropallo bought Level 1 materials, paid section and national dues and registered for the apprentice program.

The first stage included eight sections, including cart-fleet management, tournament operations and rules.

For the carts, he'd outline a schedule for the crew, a rotation of vehicles so wear on them was consistent, etc.

Tournament operations might be examples of different formats and logistics of putting on big events.

For each step, he kept a workbook that he'd later submit. It grew to about five inches thick.

Oropallo had learned much of the operation on the job and was comfortable with the Level 1 curriculum.

"Level 1 is lengthy, and that's where most people quit," he says.

When he was finished, he flew to Florida and was tested on the material. During the visit, he attended seminars for Level 2 preparation.

Then it was back home and more of the same.

Level 2 focused primarily on business: putting together sample budgets for a golf course, planning improvements to the facility, merchandising and inventory control.

Then it was back to Florida, more testing, more prepping for Level 3 and back home.

Level 3 included extended customer relations work.

One other piece of the puzzle was earning work-experience credits, which wasn't an issue for Oropallo.

He then made one last trip to Florida, where he was elected to the membership. A lot of people helped him along the way, he said, including his supportive family and other course pros.

"You start reflecting on all of that, and it's pretty touching to me," he says.

He was also moved by a member's speech at the Florida ceremony.

"He said think about all the people who helped you along the way," says Oropallo. "It's now your responsibility to do the same for others. It was really cool.

"We talk about growing the game. I try to share my enthusiasm for the game with everyone I meet."

He has two younger men on his Eagle Point staff. One, Logan Genaw, is at Level 1 in the apprentice program; the other, Hunter DeLange, plans to go to a PGA career school in Arizona in about a month.

Oropallo does what he can to guide them, just as others did for him.

One such mentor is Norm Blandel, a Medford PGA master professional. He encouraged Oropallo every step of the way.

When Oropallo returned from Florida, Blandel gave him a gift.

"He handed me a pin, my first PGA pin," says Oropallo. "He'd been saving that for me. It was really nice."

The PGA will send Oropallo a pin, too, and he'll tuck it away with the hope of someday paying it forward to another young professional with stick-to-itiveness.

It's a responsibility he relishes.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email