Coming into the final points event of the 2017 Georgia PGA tournament schedule, Kyle Owen held a slim lead over two players, with two others in position to possibly overtake him with victories in the season-ending event.
Owen, the head professional at Dunwoody CC, shot 74 in the first round of the Georgia PGA’s qualifier for the national club professional championship and was 1-over after nine holes of the second round, leaving him in jeopardy of failing to qualify for the PGA Professional Championship as well as losing his lead in the Player of the Year points race.
With birdies at holes 12 and 13 and a chip-in eagle at the par-5 14th at Champions Retreat outside Augusta, Owen made a considerable move up the leaderboard, getting him close to the tournament lead and in excellent position to both qualify for nationals and retain his Player of the Year lead.
But just as quickly as Owen charged to the front, he just as rapidly lost ground on both the qualifying and Player of the Year fronts. Owen had “a good birdie look” at 15, but missed, and a bogey at the par-4 16th stalled his momentum.
Things got worse at the par-5 17th after an errant drive and missed putt led to a double bogey. He managed an up-and-down par at the difficult par-4 18th for a 72 and a 2-over 146 total and waited to see how the four groups behind him finished and what impact they would have on where he ended up in the standings.
Owen was particularly interested how Tim Weinhart, who was two groups behind him, was faring. Weinhart was one of the two players just behind Owen in the Player of the Year standings, and if he finished ahead of Owen in the PGA PC qualifier, was likely to pass him on the points list and win his 10th career Player of the Year title.
“I had no idea where I stood,” Owen said, turning down an offer late in the round to check the standings so he could assess his situation. “I decided I was just going to play.
“When I made the eagle at 14, I knew I was in good enough shape. I felt like I had played well enough to qualify and that was a win in and of itself.”
By the time everyone finished, Owen had accomplished the two main objectives he had coming into the tournament. He tied for fourth in the qualifier to earn one of six available spots in the PGA PC, with his 146 total matching that of Weinhart, who needed to finish ahead of Owen.
Owen also came away with the Georgia PGA’s Player of the Year award, finishing just ahead of Weinhart in the final standings.
Brian Dixon, who was also just behind Owen on the points list coming into the tournament, finished three shots behind Owen and Weinhart, and neither of the two players who could have moved past Owen with a win had serious chances at victory coming down the stretch.
“It’s very humbling, quite an honor,” Owen said of earning Player of the Year honors for the first time. “The guys in our Section are so strong, to be on top of that heap for a year feels great.”
There were a lot of different scenarios that could have played out the final day, but Owen decided just to focus on what he could control – the quality of his own play.
“That’s what I was trying to do. There were so many things going on.”
Owen said qualifying for nationals was at the top of his list, and he needed his par save on the final hole to avoid a playoff to advance. It also enabled him to tie Weinhart for the tournament, with Weinhart parring 14 of his last 15 holes, including the last eight in a row. One more birdie that day would have given Weinhart the Player of Year honor for the third straight time and 10th overall.
Next year’s PGA PC will be played in northern California, with the two host courses the same ones Owen competed on when he made his first appearance at nationals in 2012. Owen was just outside the top 20 going to the final round but struggled the final day with a chance to qualify for the PGA Championship later that summer.
Owen also qualified for nationals in 2014, but narrowly missed the cut. He will be playing in the PGA PC next year for the third time.
By capturing Player of the Year honors, Owen also earned a spot in the upcoming PGA Tour RSM Classic at Sea Island GC. This will be Owen’s first ever PGA Tour start, but not his first in a tour event.
Owen was a mini-tour player from 1997 to 2004, playing primarily on the defunct Hooters Tour, but noted, “I played pretty much everywhere.” He made a handful of starts in Nike and Buy.com (now Web.com) events, with his best finish coming in 2001 in Shreveport, La., where he tied for 34th. Owen scored his lone Hooters Tour win in a long-running event in McCormick, S.C., in 2003, collecting $27,000.
But less than two years later, his career as a tour player was over, and Owen left the road for a more stable life as a club professional. Owen worked as an assistant at Capital City Club for five years and has worked for seven years at Dunwoody CC, the last three as head pro.
Owen, a native of Canton in Cherokee County, said he did not know much about Dunwoody CC until he joined the Georgia PGA Section, but said being at the club “has been great for me. It’s as good a golf course and facility as any in the state. It’s a great place to work.”
In addition, Owen’s wife grew up in the Dunwoody area, making for an even more comfortable fit.
When Owen tees it up in the RSM Classic in mid-November, he expects to have some club members in his gallery He also hopes to re-connect with a few friends from his mini-tour days, especially St. Simons resident Zach Johnson and Augusta’s Vaughn Taylor.
After frequently competing at the course in Georgia PGA events, Owen said he is “very familiar,” with the Seaside and Plantation courses at Sea Island GC, and couldn’t ask for a better place to make his PGA Tour debut.
“I don’t have a lot to learn about the courses,” he offered. “I’ll just try to soak it all up between the ropes.”
Owen earned his Player of the Year award despite not winning any of the six Section points events he competed in this year. He finished second three times, including the first two tournaments of the year where he came away with first place points. He was second in the season-opening event at Rivermont CC behind Chris Nicol, who has not yet attained Class A PGA status, and was low pro in the Atlanta Open at Echelon GC behind Kennesaw State golfer Wyatt Larkin.
The other runner-up finish for Larkin came in the Georgia PGA Match Play Championship, where he lost in the finals at Peachtree GC to Peachtree head pro Donn Perno. Owen closed out the season by tying for sixth in the Section Championship at Sea Island GC’s Retreat course before his T4 finish in the PGA PC qualifier.
“The last couple of events, my ball striking was not what it was earlier in the year,” Owen said. “It was so-so at best. But I played better at the end in the Section Championship.”
Owen tied for sixth in that event with four birdies on his last seven holes, and that torrid stretch of play produced enough extra points to enable him to edge out Weinhart in the standings.
“I know that everything counts out here,” Owen said. “Strange things can happen, good and bad. You just keep playing.”
Owen is not the first Georgia PGA member to earn Player of the Year honors without a victory, but admitted it was “kind of odd to do it without winning and not playing all the events.”
Following a top 20 finish at Berkeley Hills, Owen elected to skip the Georgia Open, staying at home to conduct an event at Dunwoody CC that week.
“At the time I had a little lead on the points list, and I had a gut feeling that I should stay here,” Owen said. “I knew if I kept playing good, I controlled my own destiny.”
Owen has been a solid player in the Georgia PGA in recent years, placing fourth on the points list in 2013 and third in 2014, slipping a bit to 11th and seventh the last two years. His lone victory came at Chicopee Woods in 2014 in a playoff over Sonny Skinner, one of the Section’s top pros for the past decade, and he has top finishes in almost every tournament on the Georgia PGA schedule in recent years.
The first top finish by Owen as a club pro was a tie for fourth in the Atlanta Open in 2007, and he tied for third in the event in 2015. He tied for second at Chicopee Woods the year before he scored his lone win there, tied for second in the Section Championship at Seaside in 2014 and lost a 4-man playoff last year at Rivermont. Owen twice tied for third at Berkeley Hills and tied for fourth in the Section Championship at Plantation two years ago.
While he was still a tour player, Owen twice contended in the Georgia Open, finishing third at Jekyll Island in 1998 and tying for fourth at Settindown Creek in 2003, just one shot out of a playoff.
When he joined the Georgia PGA after his stint as a mini-tour pro, Owen anticipated having success in the Section. Looking back on his decade-plus as a club pro, Owen said he “expected to win more, no doubt. But sometimes you get beat and sometimes you make mistakes.
“I’m happy to contend, but there’s no reason I should not have won more.”
In his mid-40s in a Section where most of the top players are older than he is, Owen should have the opportunity to add some wins to his career total in the near future.