Peachtree Golf Club head professional Donn Perno had two distinct advantages going into the finals of the Georgia PGA Match Play Championship played earlier this week.
The semifinals and finals of the event were played at Peachtree, giving Perno the home course edge. Perno did not have to play his semifinal match Monday morning, as Callaway Gardens head pro Wyatt Detmer was unable to compete due to a scheduling conflict.
The other semifinal matched two of the Georgia PGA’s top players – Dunwoody CC head pro Kyle Owen and former Champions Tour member James Mason, the highest remaining seeds from the 64-player bracket. Owen won 3&1 to advance to the championship match.
“I needed it,” Perno said of enjoying the home course advantage. And not having to play in the semifinals “was huge for me. I had everything working my way and I needed everything. If I played Kyle ten times, he’d beat me eight.”
Fortunately for Perno, Monday’s championship was one of the two times he figured he’d win. Perno never trailed in the match and held on for a 1-up victory, his second Match Play title over the past five years.
Perno won at East Lake in 2013, winning the title match when Craig Stevens was forced to withdraw after nine holes with heat exhaustion. The players had to walk in the mid-August heat that year, but Peachtree has allowed the use of carts in the four years the Atlanta club has hosted the Match Play semifinals and finals.
That benefitted Owen, who played 35 holes Monday to 18 for Perno. Fatigue did not appear to be a problem for Owen, at the age of 45 the youngest of the four semifinalists. He was 2-down after 15 holes in the finals before scoring his second eagle of the day on the par-5 16th. He had looks at birdie putts on 17 and 18 to square the match, but was unable to convert either of the two, with Perno two-putting from long range on the 18th for a par to halve the hole and win the match.
“I hit the ball solid. I had to,” said Perno, who hit the first 15 greens in regulation in the title match to tale a 2-up lead at that point.
Perno, the ninth seed, jumped out to a 2-up lead when Owen bogeyed the first and third holes, but Perno’s advantage quickly disappeared when he three-putted the fourth hole and Owen eagled the fifth, one of three eagle he recorded in the two matches. Perno regained the lead when he birdied the par-3 sixth after an excellent tee shot after Owen missed a birdie putt of similar length.
Both players birdied the par-5 10th, with Perno going 2-up when he holed a long birdie putt at the par-3 11th. Owen, the seventh seed, reduced his deficit with his second eagle of the match at 16, but could not convert either of his putts on 17 and 18 that would have forced extra holes. His best opportunity came on the 17th, when he missed from about six feet after Perno missed from a slightly longer distance.
“I had a chance at the end, but he kept the heat on me all day,” said Owen, who took the lead in the Georgia PGA Player of the Year points race with his runner-up finish.
Owen took control of his semifinal match when he birdied holes 8, 9 and 10 to take a 3-up lead. The third-seeded Mason, who also lost in the semifinals last year, lost the 11th to fall 4-down, but won holes 12, 13 and 15, a trio of par 4s, with pars to reduce Owen’s lead to 1-up. Owen eagled the 16th to move 2-up with two to play, and was conceded a 6-footer for birdie on 17 to close out the match.
While Owen was battling Mason, Perno said he “just hung out, hit some putts and did some work.”
Playing in competition on a course where he is accustomed to playing “country club golf,” Perno said it was “a little different, but I was looking forward to it. I really wanted to get into the semifinals since we brought the tournament here.”
As is usually the case, the title match was played with just a few people witnessing it, which was fine with Perno, who did not solicit his members to support him in person.
“I didn’t want too many people to watch in case I lost,” laughed Perno, who instead missed out on the chance to impress his members with the quality of his play.
Perno played at a high level in most of his four matches leading up the semifinals, including a 4&3 victory in the second round over Eric Reeves at the Capital City Club Brookhaven course, where Reeves is the head pro. The match was all square before Perno ran off four consecutive birdies to end the match.
After defeating eighth-seeded Chris Cartwright of West Pines 2&1 in the third round, Perno needed 19 holes to get past Oak Mountain head pro Kevin Gibbs in the quarterfinals at Settindown Creek. Gibbs had advanced with an upset of three-time champion and No. 1 seed Tim Weinhart.
“I actually played better there,” Perno said in comparison to the championship. “It was a great match. I think we made only three or four bogeys between the two of us.”
The playoff was held on the long par-4 sixth at Settindown Creek, which Perno believed put him at a disadvantage against the longer-hitting Gibbs. But Perno hit a solid drive and followed with an excellent approach, leaving him about 10 feet for birdie. Although he missed the putt, Perno’s par was enough to win the hole and send him to the semifinals, which he wound up not having to play.