Top 20 club pros to qualify
for PGA Championship
By Mike Blum
For 312 of the top PGA professionals in the U.S., the road to the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club goes through Hershey, Pa., this month.
Hershey Country Club will host the PGA Professional National Championship June 26-29, with the top 20 finishers earning spots in the field for the PGA Championship, which will be played for the third time at Atlanta Athletic Club. This year’s tournament date is Aug. 11-14.
The Georgia PGA will have nine players in the field at Hershey CC, led by Sonny Skinner, who has been runner-up in the PNC twice in the last three years. Skinner was second behind Michigan’s Scott Hebert at Reynolds Plantation in 2008, and was second again last year behind three-time PNC champion Mike Small, who coaches the golf team at Illinois.
Skinner is among four of the nine PNC qualifiers from the Georgia PGA who have competed in the PGA Championship. Tim Weinhart has competed in the PGA Championship five times since 2002, with Craig Stevens making two starts in the PGA, the first one coming at Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001.
Kevin Roman qualified for the PGA Championship in 2009, joining Weinhart in the field that year at Hazeltine.
Since 1994, when Stephen Keppler made the first of his five appearances, the Georgia PGA has had at least one of its members in all but four of the last 17 PGA Championships. The two most recent times in which the Georgia PGA did not qualify a member for the PGA Championship (2004 and ’07), the state’s top finisher missed by just one stroke.
This month’s PGA PNC will again be played Sunday-Wednesday to provide more exposure on the Golf Channel for the country’s top club professionals. Golf Channel will televise all four rounds, with the PNC having the network to itself for the final three days.
Hershey CC hosted the PGA Championship in 1940, and over the past 25 years has been the site of events on the LPGA Tour (1978-94) and the Nationwide Tour (1997-2004). The tournament will be held over the club’s two courses (East and West), with the West course dating back to 1930 and the East a George Fazio design that opened in 1969.
The West course plays to a par 72, but is more than 300 yards shorter than the 7,060-yard East layout, which plays to a par of 71.
The last time Atlanta Athletic Club hosted the PGA Championship, the Georgia PGA landed two members in the field, with Stevens and Keppler both qualifying. Keppler almost made the 36-hole cut that year, missing by just one stroke.
Six of the nine Georgia PGA representatives in the PNC have previously competed in the event, with the Georgia Section sending three “rookies” to Hershey.
Along with the four Section members who have qualified for the PGA Championship, Jeff Hull and Shawn Koch have played in the PNC prior to this year, with both coming close to qualifying in recent appearances.
Hull, the teaching professional at the UGA course in Athens, has made four appearances in the PNC, including each of the last three years. His best showing came at Reynolds Plantation in 2008, when he missed a top 20 finish by just three shots. Hull, the 2007 Georgia PGA Player of the Year, has won six Section titles, including the 2007 Georgia Open, the ’04 Section Championship and the ’08 PNC qualifier. Hull tied for 4th in last year’s Section qualifier for the PNC at The Manor.
Koch, the Director of Instruction at Country Club of the South, will be making his third straight start in the PNC. He tied for 29th in New Mexico in 2009, missing a top 20 finish by just three strokes with a pair of scores in the 60s, one coming in the final round. Koch has won three Georgia PGA events – the 2006 Atlanta Open and the Match Play Championship and Griffin Classic in ’08.
To earn his spot in the 2011 PNC, Koch had to win a four-players-for-one-spot playoff last year at The Manor, the third straight year he has been involved in a playoff in the Section’s PNC qualifier.
The Section’s three first time representatives are Augusta CC Director of Instruction Gary Cressend, Marietta Golf Center instructor Ted Fort and Towne Lake Hills assistant Bill Murchison, all of whom placed 4th or better in last year’s PNC qualifier. Murchison was 2nd, three strokes behind Stevens, with Fort taking 3rd and Cressend tying for 4th.
It was the best showing ever in a Section points event for each of the three players. Murchison recently won the Georgia PGA’s qualifier for the Nationwide Tour South Georgia Classic and narrowly missed qualifying for the Stadion Classic at UGA.
Skinner will be coming off an appearance in last month’s Senior PGA Championship, and has had a successful run the last few years in PGA events, highlighted by his two runner-up finishes in the PNC, which earned him spots in the PGA Championship two of the last three years.
For most of his career in golf, Skinner was a tour player, competing on either the Nationwide or PGA Tour from 1990 until 2004. He has played sparingly as a tour player since, making four starts on the Champions Tour since turning 50 last August.
Skinner, who is an instructor at River Pointe in Albany, has been one of the Georgia PGA’s top players in recent years, earning Player of the Year honors in 2006 and placing second, third and fourth the last three years. Skinner won the 2006 Match Play Championship and ’09 Section Championship, amassing his point totals with a string of top finishes in Georgia PGA events.
Weinhart has been a familiar presence in the club professional national championship for more than decade, and will be making his 12th straight start in the PNC and 13th overall. Weinhart missed the cut in last year’s PNC in French Lick, Ind., the first time since 2001 he did not make it to the final round.
During his decade long run of success in the PNC, Weinhart has finished 8th or better in the championship three times, holding the lead late in the final round in 2009. He has qualified for the PGA Championship five times, earning the last of the available 20 spots from the PNC in playoffs in both 2005 and ’06, and missed by narrow margins on four other occasions.
Weinhart, an instructor with Nuclear Golf, which is based at the Standard Club, has earned Georgia PGA Player of the Year honors six times – from 2002-05 and each of the last two years. He has won all four of the Section’s designated majors among his 10 victories, and also won the PGA South Region Championship in 2003, when that event served as the qualifier for the club professional championship.
Stevens has an even longer history in the PNC, and will be playing in the event for the 15th time this year. With the exception of 2009, he has not missed the PNC since 1998, and made the cut seven straight years from 2001-07, qualifying for back-to-back PGA Championships in 2001 and ’02. His best finish in the PNC was a tie for 9th in ‘02.
During his career in the Georgia PGA, Stevens has twice earned Player of the Year honors (1999 and 2001) and has been a contender for that title almost every year
since. He has 11 Section titles, including back-to-back wins last year in the Section Championship and PNC qualifier.
Stevens, who teaches at Steel Canyon in Sandy Springs, won at The Manor last year by three strokes, shooting 9-under 135 in the 36-hole event. Stevens turned 50 earlier this year and has made a few attempts at qualifying for Champions Tour tournaments.
Roman will be competing in the PNC for the third straight year. In his first appearance in the PNC in 2009, he tied for 16th to earn a spot in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine, as well as a return invitation to last year’s PNC. Roman, an instructor at Cherokee CC, typically plays a light tournament schedule, but has played well in the Section’s PNC qualifier, tying for 6th at The Manor last year to earn a third consecutive trip to the PNC.