Tim Weinhart did not need to win the 2016 Georgia PGA Professional Championship to qualify for next year’s national club professional championship or to earn his ninth Player of the Year award.
Weinhart had already earned a berth in next year’s PGA Professional Championship thanks to his recent win in the Georgia PGA Championship at Sea Island Golf Club, and was in position to earn Player of the Year honors with a strong, non-winning finish in the recent PGA qualifier at the Oconee Course at Reynolds Plantation.
Although he may have lacked the incentive of the state’s other top club professionals to play well in the Georgia PGA Professional Championship, it certainly wasn’t reflected in Weinhart’s play.
With rounds of 70 and 69, Weinhart shot 5-under 139 on the Rees Jones-designed Oconee Course to finish two ahead of Sonny Skinner, who was runner-up to Weinhart for the second time in less than a month.
Karen Paolozzi, who was exempt into next year’s national club pro championship thanks to her top-10 finish in the event earlier this year, tied for third at 142 with Georgia PGA veteran Craig Stevens and long-time tour player Paul Claxton, who joined the club professional ranks earlier this year.
Claxton will play in next year’s PGA Professional Championship for the first time along with fellow first timers Justin Martin, who finished fifth at 144, and Jeff Frasier, who was sixth at 145.
Five players tied for the final qualifying spot at 146, with Mark Anderson winning the playoff with a birdie on the second extra hole.
Next year’s PGA Professional Championship will be played in late June at Oregon’s Sunriver Resort, which was designed by Atlanta-based golf course architect Bob Cupp, who recently passed away.
Weinhart, who heads up the Tim Weinhart Golf Academy at Heritage Golf Links, trailed Claxton by one shot after the opening round, and the two were paired together the next day in the final group along with Martin, who matched Weinhart’s opening 70. Claxton and Martin were both over par in the second round, while Weinhart was one of two players to break 70 on the day.
Skinner, who began the second round with birdies on the first three holes, took the lead after shooting 4-under on the front nine, but fell back following a double bogey on the par-4 12th. He shot 70 for a 141 total. Stevens posted the low round of the tournament with a 68 after opening with a 74.
Prior to the tournament, Weinhart said he had “some back issues, but I sorted it out.” He started both rounds with birdies on Oconee’s par-5 opening hole and had nine birdies over two days, six of them on par 5s.
Weinhart has won all four of the Georgia’s majors, but his most success has come in the qualifying event for the national club pro event. He has won the tournament five times since 2006, and lost in a playoff the first time the event was played in 1997.
“This tournament has always been very important to me,” Weinhart said. “This is the tournament I’ve won the most in the Georgia PGA.”
Weinhart’s four previous victories came on courses he was very familiar with, but he had limited experience on the Oconee Course, playing it once in a Georgia PGA North Chapter event prior to a pre-tournament practice round. Weinhart carded eight birdies in the practice round and came away with positive feelings about the golf course, which he carried over into the tournament.
When Weinhart arrives in Oregon for next year’s PGA Professional Championship, he will be playing on two courses he has competed on several times. This will be the fourth time Weinhart has played at Sunriver Resort in nationals, and while he made the cut two of the last three times, he has yet to record a top-20 finish there to qualify for the PGA Championship.
Weinhart has qualified for the PGA Championship five times at other courses that have hosted the club pro championship, and hopes to make a sixth appearance next year when the PGA Championship will be played at Quail Hollow in Charlotte.
Winning the GPGA Professional Championship clinched Weinhart’s ninth Player of the Year award. He broke a tie last year with 7-time award winner Gregg Wolff, a veteran Georgia PGA member Weinhart has a great deal of respect for.
“Gregg is the nicest man I’ve ever met in my life,” said Weinhart, who tied Wolff by winning Player of the Year honors from 2002-05 and 2009-11. He did not win the award again until last year, part of a 4-year stretch in which Weinhart did not win a Georgia PGA points event.
Weinhart broke the tie with Wolff last year despite not winning a tournament, but wrapped up his ninth title this year with consecutive victories in the final two events of the season,
With his ninth title imminent, Weinhart says Wolff told him. “You can’t stop until you get to double digits,” and Weinhart “that’s definitely a goal to keep trying for and keep moving in that direction.”
Even though the Georgia PGA is done for 2016 except for a few team events, Weinhart will have a busy last few months to the year. He will compete in a pro-am in Mexico as well as a club pro event in Charlotte that serves as a qualifier for a TaylorMade-sponsored tournament at Pebble Beach.
The big week on Weinhart’s remaining 2016 schedule is the PGA Tour RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club, where Weinhart won the recent Georgia PGA Championship. Weinhart has played well several times in the tournament, but has narrowly missed the cut and is looking forward to teeing it up again against the best players in the game.
Weinhart had competed in the PGA Professional Championship 15 straight years before having his streak broken in 2014. He will be making his 17th appearance this year after returning to nationals last year.
Like Weinhart, Skinner and Stevens have been fixtures at the PGA Professional Championship for the past decade, even longer for Stevens.
Skinner, the head pro at Spring Hill in Tifton, qualified for nationals nine straight times since becoming eligible in 2006, skipping one year to compete in a Champions Tour event before missing out for the first time last year. He has twice finished as runner-up at nationals, once when the event was played at two different courses at Reynolds Plantation. He was second behind Weinhart in the 2016 Georgia PGA Player of the Year standings.
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone G&CC, will be competing at nationals for the 18th time, and has made three appearances in the PGA Championship, including both times Atlanta Athletic Club hosted the event in 2001 and 2011. Stevens shot himself into contention with a 4-under 32 on the front nine the final day at the Oconee Course, with a bogey at the 18th hole costing him a possible tie for second with Skinner.
Paolozzi, an assistant at Druid Hills GC, was exempt into next year’s PGA PC after tying for seventh earlier this year at the Turning Stone Resort in New York, the first top-10 finish in the event by a female. She shot 72-70 at the Oconee Course to tie for third, and will be making her third start at nationals.
Claxton led after a no-bogey 69 the first day, and was 1-under after 15 holes in the second round and one behind Weinhart before taking bogeys on two of last three holes for a closing 73. Claxton, the head pro at Hawk’s Point in his home town of Vidalia, played 20 years on either the Web.com (16) or PGA (4) Tours, and remains second on the Web.com’s all-time money list.
In his first year in Georgia PGA competition, Claxton placed fourth in the points standings with a trio of top-4 finishes.
Martin, the head pro at the First Tee facility at John A. White Park, shot 70-74, with Frasier closing with a 70 to take sixth place outright.
Anderson, an instructor at Brunswick CC, had never qualified for nationals until he turned 50, but will be making his fifth appearance next year after qualifying for the second straight year, along with three starts in the PGA Senior Professional Championship.
He won a playoff that included Peachtree head pro Donn Perno, Fox Creek head pro Brian Dixon and assistants Chris Leake of the Landings and Matthew Sanders of Oak Mountain. All shot 2-over 146.
After an opening 74, Anderson was 2-under after 12 holes the second day when he had a lengthy wait on the tee at the long, par-3 13th and his back stiffened up.
“I was fine when we kept moving, but when I stopped and waited. It got stiff,” he said. Anderson hit “an awful 5-wood” that found a hazard he did not know was there. He made double bogey and also bogeyed 16 before a birdie at 17 enabled him to finish at 2-over, a score he did not think would give him a chance to qualify.
Perno and Leake also shot 74-72, with Perno getting to 2-over for the tournament with a birdie at 16. Leake made all three of his birdies the second day on par 5s, and was 1-over before a bogey at the par-3 15th.
Sanders shot 74 in an up-and-down second round that included five birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys. Birdies at 17 and 18 got him into the playoff. Dixon had nine birdies over two days, including four in a second round 76. After making five birdies in an opening 71, Dixon was 1-under for the second round and 2-under for the tournament after a birdie at 11, but was 4-over the rest of the way with a costly double bogey at the 18th.
The playoff was conducted on the par-4 ninth, with Leake and Sanders dropping out after making bogey on the first extra hole. Perno was the only player to hit the green in regulation, with Anderson and Dixon saving par. Dixon hit a nice chip while Anderson hit what he described as a “chip/putt” from a spot “I shouldn’t have been in.”
Anderson said he hit the shot a little too hard and verbally instructed his ball “to hit the stick,” which it did, enabling him to save par.
While Dixon missed the green on the second playoff hole and made bogey, both Anderson and Perno gave themselves birdie chances from inside 10 feet. Anderson putted first and made it. Perno missed and wound up as first alternate with Dixon second.