Seven Georgia PGA members will be in the field for the 2018 PGA Professional Championship, the national championship for the country’s club professionals, with the tournament set for June 17-20 at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in Seaside, Calif.
Eight members of the Georgia PGA Section qualified for the championship, but Woodmont instructor Craig Stevens, who has competed in the event on a near-annual basis for the past two decades, will be unable to participate this year.
The seven Georgia PGA members competing in the national championship for club professionals includes two players with plenty of history in the event and five relative newcomers, two of whom will be competing at nationals for the first time.
The veterans are Heritage Golf Links Director of Instruction Tim Weinhart and former tour player Sonny Skinner, the pro at Spring Hill in Tifton.
Weinhart, the nine-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year, will be playing at nationals for the 18th time in the last 19 years, and has qualified for the PGA Championship five times, finishing among the top 10 in the club pro championship on three occasions. The top 20 finishers in the tournament will qualify for the PGA Championship, which will be played in August at Bellerive in St. Louis.
All five of Weinhart’s appearances in the PGA Championship came between 2002 and 2009, and he did not make another strong run at qualifying for a sixth time until last year, when he missed by two shots of a top-20 finish.
Skinner has qualified for nationals 11 times in the 12 years since he became eligible and has twice finished as runner-up in the national club pro championship. Skinner was second at Reynolds Plantation in 2008, the last time the event was played in Georgia, and was second again two years later in French Lick, Ind. He tied for ninth in the tournament in 2013 to earn a third appearance in the PGA Championship, but has not finished higher than 39th since.
In addition to his three PGA Championship starts, Skinner has been a frequent competitor in recent years in both the Senior PGA Championship and the senior club pro championship, including the most recent Senior PGA in Michigan a few weeks ago. Skinner is a member of the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
Kyle Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC, will be making his third start at nationals, with his first appearance coming at the Bayonet and Black Horse courses in 2012. Owen was in contention for a top-20 finish after 54 holes, but struggled in the final round. He will return to the Monterrey Peninsula after a strong 2017 showing in Georgia PGA events that earned him his first Player of the Year title.
Paul Claxton, who spent 20-plus years as a tour player, 16 on the Web.com Tour and four as a PGA Tour member, made an impressive debut in the national club pro championship last year, leading at one point in the final round before finishing in a tie for third. That earned Claxton a spot in the 2018 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.
The week before playing in the PGA, Claxton won the Georgia Open at Ford Plantation in Savannah, and followed that with a victory in the qualifying event for the national club pro championship. He shot 4-under 140 at Champions Retreat to tie Matthew Sanders of Oak Mountain in Carrollton. Claxton, who is teaching at Brunswick CC, began the 2018 Georgia PGA season like he finished in 2017, winning the season-opening event at Chattahoochee GC.
Claxton turned 50 early this year and has played in three Champions Tour event, including the recent Senior PGA Championship, where he made the cut in his first start in a senior major.
Sanders is one of two Georgia PGA “rookies” at nationals, joining Cherokee Town & Country Club head pro Peter Jones, who placed third last year at Champions Retreat to earn his spot in the field in northern California. Jones placed fourth in the 2017 points list that determines Player of the Year and is currently leading the standings after finishing as low pro in the Yamaha Atlanta Open earlier this week.
The final spot among the Georgia PGA qualifiers went to Justin Martin, the Director of Golf at the First Tee of Atlanta. Martin got the spot in a playoff with Bill Hassell, the head pro at Cartersville CC. This will be Martin’s second straight appearance at nationals after qualifying for the first time the previous year. He placed 10th on last year’s Georgia PGA points list.
Since Stephen Keppler emerged as the Section’s top player in the early 1990s, the Georgia PGA has a successful history of having members qualify for the PGA Championship. Over the past 24 years, at least one Georgia PGA member has either qualified for the PGA Championship via the national club pro event or scored a top-10 finish in 18 of those years.
Weinhart’s five appearances in the PGA Championship are the most by a Georgia PGA member over that stretch, followed by Keppler (4, plus a top 10 the one year no club pros qualified because of a change in dates). Stevens and Skinner are next with three each, with Stevens qualifying both times Atlanta Athletic Club hosted the PGA Championship.
Although she did not compete that year in the PGA Championship, Karen Paolozzi of Druid Hills GC recorded the highest finish ever at nationals by a female when she tied for seventh in 2016 in her second start in the club pro championship.
In addition to the Georgia PGA members competing, two former Georgia PGA members are in the field, along with two ex-tour players from Georgia who are working as PGA instructors in Tennessee.
Former Cherokee Town & CC pro Dave Bahr qualified out of the Ohio Section, while Jeff Jordan, who worked at Alpharetta CC, qualified out of Alabama. Alpharetta CC is no longer operating as a golf facility after recently being acquired by the City of Milton and converted to green space.
Peachtree City’s Johan Kok and Jake Reeves of Americus played in college at South Carolina and Tennessee before playing professionally, and both have settled in Tennessee, where are teaching pros. Kok has qualified for the PGA Championship twice over the last four years, and qualified this week for the PGA Tour event in Memphis.