Since he turned 50 in 2010, Sonny Skinner has played some of his best golf in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship, the Section’s qualifier for the national senior club professional championship.
Skinner collected his third victory in the event earlier this week, shooting 12-under 132 for 36 holes at Pinetree Country Club to score a decisive 6-stroke victory over James Mason and Craig Stevens, who shared second place at 138.
Stephen Keppler placed fourth at 140, with Mark Anderson getting the fifth and final spot at nationals with a 141 total. Brian Puterbaugh was sixth in the qualifier at 147 and will be the first alternate from the Georgia Section.
The PGA Senior Professional Championship will be played Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., with the top 35 finishers qualifying for the 2018 PGA Senior Championship.
All five Georgia qualifiers have a history of success in the GPGA Senior Championship, and have streaks of qualifying for nationals ranging from four to eight years.
Skinner, who teaches at Spring Hill in Tifton and also works as a sales rep for several companies, has the longest streak, and will be making his eighth straight appearance in the PGA Senior PNC later this year. He placed third in event in 2012 and was 10th in 2014. He qualified for the PGA Senior Championship six straight times from 2011-16, making the cut the first five times he played in the event, before missing out this year.
In his first appearance in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship in 2010, Skinner shot 8-under 136 at Cartersville CC to win by one stroke. After placing second in both 2011 and ’12, the latter at Pinetree, he collected his second GPGA Senior title at Settindown Creek, winning by three at 9-under 135.
Skinner’s third win came in even more impressive fashion, as he shot 12-under on a difficult golf course, carding 13 birdies over two days against one lone bogey. He opened with a 65 to lead Mason by two, and began his second round with birdies on the first two holes, making the turn in 4-under. He suffered his only bogey of the tournament on the par-4 10th, but birdies at 15 and 16 increased his final margin to six shots with a final round of 67.
“I hit the ball nicely,” Skinner said. “I only missed two greens, one each day. I hit the ball on the proper side of the hole a lot and putted pretty decent. I don’t believe I’ve ever shot below 68 at Pinetree.
“That may be the best I’ve played in a tournament, but there’s no rhyme or reason for it.”
Skinner earned $1,680 for his victory.
After missing out on qualifying for the PGA Senior Championship, where he has finished as low club pro, Skinner said there is “no doubt” that making it back to that event is a major priority for him. Prior to that, Skinner will take a shot at qualifying for the British Senior Open, which will be played July 27-30.
“I hope this continues,” Skinner said of the quality of his play at Pinetree. “My confidence is high.”
Skinner also has two major Georgia PGA events on his upcoming schedule – the Georgia Open at Ford Plantation in Savannah in early August and the Section Championship at Sea Island GC late in the month.
Mason, who plays out of The Orchard in Clarkesville, tied for second with scores of 67-71, and will be playing at nationals for the fifth straight year. Mason played on the Champions Tour for more than a decade after winning an event as a Monday qualifier in 2002, and played in the PGA Senior Championship on an almost annual basis for more than 10 years.
His best finish in the PGA Senior Professional Championship was a tie for second in 2014.
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone CC, has qualified for nationals seven straight years, finishing third in his first appearance in 2011 and sixth two years later. He won the Georgia PGA Senior Championship in 2012 at Pinetree and 2015 at Settindown Creek, and finished second and third the two years in between his victories. He shot back-to-back 69s earlier this week to tie Mason for second at 138.
Keppler, the Director of Golf at Marietta CC, was 2-over after 14 in his opening round, but birdied three of his last four holes to shoot even par 72. He came back the next day with a bogey-free 68 to take fourth at 140. This is the sixth straight time he’s qualified for nationals, but has only played in the last three, twice placing in the top 35 to make it into the PGA Senior Championship the next year. He competed in both the PGA Senior Championship and U.S. Senior Open this year, shooting 67 in the first round of the Senior Open. Keppler won the GPGA Senior Championship at Settindown Creek in 2014.
Anderson, an instructor at Brunswick CC, has qualified for senior nationals each of the last four years, and earned the final spot from the Georgia PGA for the third consecutive time earlier this week. He opened with a 69 Monday highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 ninth and four birdies on the back nine, and clinched his spot in the top five with a 72 the next day.