The Georgia PGA closes out its 2017 points schedule with the Georgia PGA Professional Championship, which will determine the Section’s qualifiers for next year’s national club professional championship, as well as deciding Player of the Year honors.
It has not yet been determined how many spots the Georgia PGA will get at nationals, but the Section has advanced seven players to the PGA PC the last three years.
In addition to competing for spots at nationals, the top five players in the points standings for the year still have a good shot at collecting Player of the Year honors, with the top three separated by only a handful of points.
Going into the Georgia PGA Professional Championship, which will be played Oct. 16-17 at Champions Retreat outside Augusta, Dunwoody CC head pro Kyle Owen leads with 4,562.5 points, just ahead of Fox Creek instructor Brian Dixon (4,525) and Heritage Golf Links Director of Instruction Tim Weinhart (4,524). Peter Jones is fourth (4,025) and former tour pro Sonny Skinner is fifth (3,933) but could move with a victory.
Weinhart and Skinner both have outstanding track records in the PGA PC qualifier, with Weinhart competing at nationals 17 times in the last 18 years with five wins in the Georgia PGA event since 2006. Weinhart is in pursuit of a record 10th Player of Year award, winning four straight years from 2002-05 and three in a row from 2009-11.
Since 1999, the only year Weinhart has failed to qualify for nationals was 2014, a year after he barely got the last Georgia Section spot in the PGA PC at Champions Retreat. Weinhart has finished high enough at nationals to qualify for the PGA Championship five times, the last in 2009. His five wins in the Georgia PGA event came in 2006, ’09, ’11, ’12 and ’16.
Thanks to his recent victory in the Georgia PGA Championship at Sea Island Golf Club’s Retreat course, Weinhart is assured of a spot in the 2018 PGA Professional Championship.
Skinner first became a Georgia PGA member in 2006, and has qualified for nationals every year but one since, missing in 2015. Although he has never won the Georgia PGA’s qualifier, he has eight top-5 finishes in 11 appearances in the event, including a tie for second behind Weinhart last year at the Oconee course at Reynolds Plantation.
Neither Owen nor Dixon has a great track record in the PGA PC qualifier, although Dixon won the event the third time it was held in 2000 and tied for second at the Standard Cub in 2012. Owen narrowly qualified for nationals in 2011 and tied for third at the Legends at Chataeu Elan in 2014.
Until 2013, a relatively small number of Georgia PGA members were regular qualifiers for nationals, but over the last four years, a changing cast of characters from the Section has emerged in the GPGA PC.
Highland CC head pro Todd Ormsby won the qualifier at Champions Retreat four years to make the first of his two appearances at nationals. Griffin GC head pro Charlie King was third that year in his 50s to qualify for nationals for the only time, with Bill Murchison of Towne Lake Hills, Greg Lee of Chicopee Woods and Tommy Brannen all qualifying for the last time after making frequent appearances in the PGA PC.
Skinner was the only 2013 qualifier to make it in 2014, with Ansley GC Director of Golf Phil Taylor winning at the Legends to qualify along with Owen, Brian Puterbaugh of the Hooch, Gary Miller of the Oaks and Clark Spratlin of Currahee Club. Spratlin, who has placed second three times in the GPGA qualifier, made a number of appearances at nationals in the 2000s, with Taylor, Puterbaugh and Miller all qualifying twice each since 2011.
Puterbaugh and Hank Smith of Frederica GC, who earned a spot at nationals with his win the Georgia PGA Championship in 2014, were the only repeat qualifiers in 2015, with Druid Hills assistant Karen Paolozzi becoming the first woman to win the GPGA qualifier in 2015 at Dunwoody CC.
Paolozzi also qualified last year with a runner-up finish behind Weinhart, with Mark Anderson of Brunswick CC, also advancing each of the last two years, like King qualifying for the first time in his 50s. Anderson was second behind Paolozzi in 2015. Ormsby made it back to nationals after an absence of one year, with Brookstone instruction Craig Stevens qualifying for the 17th time in his long and successful career in the Section.
Stevens has won the Georgia PGA qualifier three times, the last in 2010, finished second three times and has been a near-annual qualifier for the last two decades.
Paolozzi, Anderson and Weinhart, the 1-2-3 finishers in 2015, all qualified last year, and were joined by Skinner, who failed to qualify in 2015 for the first time. The other three qualifiers were first timers – tour veteran Paul Claxton of Hawk’s Point in Vidalia, Jeff Frasier of Reunion GC and Justin Martin of the First Tee of Atlanta.
Thanks to his tie for third last year at nationals, Claxton is already in the field for next year’s PGA Professional Championship, but may not play in the event if he qualifiers this fall for the Champions Tour.
Champions Retreat gave the Georgia Section pros all they could handle four years ago, with Ormsby the only player to break par for 36 holes, finishing at 1-under 143 to win by two over Murchison. Weinhart got the final spot at nationals, winning a 3-for-1 playoff at 5-over 149.
This year’s competitors will play a different configuration of nines than was used four years ago. Champions Retreat consists of three nines, one each designed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. The Nicklaus nine (Bluff) will again be utilized, but this time as the front side. The Palmer nine (Island), which has several holes along the Savannah River, will serve as the back nine, taking over for the Player nine (Creek), which was the front nine for the tournament in 2013.
The Georgia PGA qualifiers will compete in the 2018 PGA Professional Championship, which will be played June 17-20 at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses on the Monterrey Peninsula in northern California, which hosted nationals in 2012 and the PGA Senior PC in 2016.
The top 25 from that event will qualify for next year’s PGA Championship at Bellerive in St. Louis. Claxton, who had never played in the PGA during his 20 years as a tour player, became the first Georgia PGA member since Skinner in 2013 to qualify for the PGA Championship.