There were ties, ties and more ties after the final round of the Georgia PGA Professional Championship, the Section’s qualifier for the national club professional championship.
There was a tie for first, a tie for eighth that determined the final qualifier from the Section and a three-way tie for the second through fourth alternate spots, which doesn’t sound that important but could come into play before next year’s championship.
There was also a 4-way tie for fourth place that had no bearing on the Section’s qualifiers, but wound up determining Player of the Year honors for 2017.
Paul Claxton, one of two players in the field who was already qualified for next year’s PGA Professional Championship, wound up as the tournament champion in a playoff over Matthew Sanders after the two players tied at 4-under 140 at Champions Retreat outside Augusta.
The playoff for the eighth and final spot in next year’s club pro championship went to Justin Martin, with playoff loser Bill Hassell settling for first alternate status, which could be elevated at the conclusion of Champions Tour qualifying later this year.
Much like the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake, which frequently features dual story lines, the GPGA Professional Championship had multiple subplots. Along with who won the event and who qualified for nationals, the tournament also determined Player of the Year, and that came down to the very end.
Kyle Owen began the tournament with a razor-thin lead over Brian Dixon and Tim Weinhart, who was looking to capture the award for a record-setting tenth time. Weinhart needed to finish ahead of Owen to have any chance of moving past him in the standings, but the two players wound up tied for fourth, enabling Owen to narrowly hold on to his lead on the points list.
Three other players also qualified for next year’s PGA Professional Championship, two of them long-time regulars in the national event and the other a first-timer. Veterans Sonny Skinner and Craig Stevens joined Weinhart and Owen in a tie for fourth, with Peter Jones taking third outright.
The victory capped a big year on the golf course for Claxton, who has been working to try and save Hawk’s Point GC in his capacity as the Director of Golf at the daily fee course in Vidalia. Claxton began the year by teaming up with Forest Heights head pro Drew Pittman to win the Senior-Junior Championship at Ansley GC.
One month later, Claxton tied for third in the PGA Professional Championship in Oregon in his first ever appearance in the event, leading the tournament late in the final round. That led to the first career start in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow in Charlotte for the former tour pro, who spent four years on the PGA Tour and 16 on the Web.com.
Claxton, who left his career as a tour pro after the 2014 season, was the first player in Web.com history to surpass $1 million in career earnings, and even though he hasn’t played in three years, remains third on the career money list.
The victory was the second this year in an individual Georgia PGA event for Claxton, adding to his win in the Georgia Open at Savannah’s Ford Plantation the week before the PGA Championship.
Claxton, who turns 50 early next year, will look to continue the momentum from his two big wins when he competes in qualifying for the 2018 Champions Tour later this year.
On a day when only one other player broke par, Claxton shot 69 in the final round on the Island (Arnold Palmer) and Creek (Gary Player) nines at Champions Retreat. Claxton, never known as a long hitter, birdied all four par 5s along with the short par-4 15th and was 4-under for his round before taking bogey on the par-4 18th.
Claxton trailed playing partner Sanders most of the day, with Sanders beginning the final round one shot off the lead after opening with a 70. Sanders, an assistant at Oak Mountain in Carrollton, ran off five birdies on the front nine to turn in 4-under for the day to take the lead, and was four in front of Claxton with five holes to play.
But Claxton picked up a shot on each of the next four holes with three birdies and a Sanders bogey on the 16th. Like Claxton, Sanders bogeyed the 18th for a 70, and then made double bogey on the hole, the first in the playoff, while Claxton made a winning par. Claxton earned $4,000 for his victory with Sanders taking home $2,800.
Sanders will be playing in his first PGA Professional Championship next year, and will be one of two rookies among the Georgia PGA contingent.
The other rookie will be Jones, an assistant at Cherokee Town & CC. Jones, who opened with a 70 and was playing in the last group of the final round, got off to a rocky start, playing his first five holes in 4-over. He was still 4-over after 14 holes, but birdies at 15 and 17 gave him a 74 and solo third at 144, four off the lead. He collected $2,200 and finished the year fourth on the point list, tying for second in the Section Championship at Sea Island GC in his previous start.
Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC, had a wild back nine and almost handed the Player of the Year award to Weinhart, who never got anything going the final day. Both players finished at 2-over 146.
After carding a 74 in the opening round that included a stretch in which he was 5-over for six holes, Owen was 1-over after 11 holes in the second round and in danger of falling behind Weinhart, who was two groups behind him. With birdies at 12 and 13 and an eagle at the par-5 14th, Owen moved well in front of Weinhart, but bogeyed the 16th and double-bogeyed the par-5 17th to finish with a 72.
This is the third time Owen has qualified for nationals and is his first Player of the Year award. He finished first in points thanks to three runner-up finishes, earning first place points in the Rivermont Championship (where he finished behind a non-Class A PGA member) and Atlanta Open (second to an amateur), along with a loss in the finals of the Match Play Championship. He was also a close T6 in the Section Championship.
Weinhart likely lost shot at a 10th Player of the Year honor in the first round, standing 3-under after 11 holes before making back-to-back double bogeys at holes 12 and 13 and finishing with a 73. He made just one birdie in the final round and shot another 73, parring 14 of his last 15 holes with a bogey at the par-4 10th.
This will be Weinhart’s 18th appearance at nationals over the last 19 years. Weinhart, the Director of Instruction at Hertage Golf Links, finished fewer than 40 points behind Owen and would have been Player of the Year had he finished ahead of him. Like Claxton, Weinhart was already in the field for next year’s PGA Professional Championship thanks to his recent victory in the Georgia PGA Championship at Sea Island GC.
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone CC, has a comparable record at qualifying for nationals as Weinhart over the past two decades. He missed out twice in the previous three years, but will return in 2018. He was 2-under after 15 holes in the final round, but bogeys at 16 and 18 left him with a 72 and a tie for fourth.
Also tying for fourth at 146 was Skinner, who has qualified for nationals 11 times in the 12 years in which he was eligible to compete in the event. Skinner, like Claxton a former tour player, was 2-over after 14 holes in the final round before clinching his spot among the qualifiers with birdies at 15 and 17 to shoot 72 on the day.
Both Skinner and Stevens qualified last month for the 2017 Senior PGA Championship with top-35 finishes at the PGA Senior club professional championship. Skinner tied for 26th at 2-over 290 in Scottsdale, Ariz., while Stevens closed with a 70 to tie for 32nd and qualify on the number at 291. James Mason of Dillard shot 292 and missed qualifying by one shot.
Martin, the Director of Golf at Atlanta’s First Tee facility, tied for eighth at Champions Retreat with a score of 147, shooting a final round 73 with his only birdie of the day at the 12th helping get him into a playoff for the final qualifying spot. He will be playing at nationals for the second straight year.
Hassell, the head pro at Cartersville CC, had an up-and-down final round, carding a 75 with four birdies, three on the back nine, where he shot 35 after struggling to a 40 on the front.
Three players tied for 10th at 148 and played off for the second, third and fourth alternate positions. Kevin Gibbs, the head pro at Oak Mountain, will be the second alternate. After shooting 70 the first day with five birdies, he had four birdies in the second round, but also had five bogeys, a double bogey and a costly triple bogey on the short, par 4-15th for a 78.
Todd Ormsby, the head pro at Highland CC in LaGrange, won the Georgia PGA Professional Championship at Champions Retreat in 2013, and led after an opening 69 Monday. But he failed to make a birdie in the second round and shot 79 that included a 41 with a pair of double bogeys on the back nine.
Bill Daggett, a pro at Champions Retreat, had a chance to qualify for nationals on his home course, but a double bogey at the par-5 14th left him with a final round 75, and he was third in the 3-man playoff for alternate spots.
Scores were high in the final round, with the scoring average 78.67. Several players who were among the top 10 after the first round were unable to break 80 the next day and failed to qualify for nationals.
J.P. Griffin of Capital City Club, was one back after an opening 70, and was third with two holes to play before a nightmarish finish. Griffin double-bogeyed the 16th, bogeyed the 17th and took a quintuple-bogey 9 on the 18th for an 80 and a 150 total. A bogey on the last hole would have been enough to qualify for Griffin, who won the Georgia PGA Assistants Championship this summer.
Michael Parrott of Brookfield CC opened with a 71, but got off to a terrible start the next day and shot 80. Mark Anderson of Brunswick CC and Vinnie Paolozzi of Cherokee Town & CC were both in contention after 73s in the first round, but fell back with 84s in the final round.