After turning 50 less than a month before the Georgia PGA Senior Professional Championship, Forest Heights head professional Drew Pittman made an auspicious debut in his senior debut, winning the recent event at historic Glen Arven CC in Thomasville.
Pittman’s victory took a while, however, as he needed nine playoff holes to win against Currahee Club Director of Golf Clark Spratlin. After the two players matched pars on the first five playoff holes, both birdied the next two holes before making bogey at the eighth. Pittman finally ended the playoff with a birdie at the ninth to collect the winner’s check of $1,500.
The tournament also served as the Georgia PGA’s qualifier for the PGA Senior Professional Championship, which will be played Nov. 17-20 at the PGA GC in south Florida. Seven Georgians qualified for the senior club professional national championship, with Pittman and Spratlin, a relative newcomer to the senior ranks, joined by five of the Section’s outstanding group of over-50 members.
Pittman and Spratlin both finished with 8-under 136 totals, with Pittman closing with a 5-under 67 and Spratlin carding a 69 in the final round after opening with a 67 to lead after the first day. Marietta CC Director of Golf Stephen Keppler was third at 137, closing with a tournament best 66. Spring Hill CC head pro Sonny Skinner was fourth at 138 after scores of 68-70, with Dillard’s James Mason, who plays out of the Orchard, fifth at 70-69—139.
Getting the final two spots at nationals were instructors Craig Stevens of Brookstone G&CC and Mark Anderson of Brunswick CC. Both players tied at 140, with Stevens posting back-to-back scores of 70 and Anderson closing with a 67.
Ansley GC Director of Golf Phil Taylor birdied his final two holes, but fell just short of getting into a playoff with Stevens and Anderson, finishing at 141 after a final round 71.
Spratlin got off to a fast start in the tournament, notching birdies on four of his first seven holes in the opening round and finishing with a 67, one ahead of Skinner and two in front of Pittman. The three players were paired together in the final round and engaged in a tight battle before Skinner birdied holes 9 and 10 to take a 2-stroke lead.
When Skinner bogeyed the 12th and Spratlin birdied the 13th, the two were tied, and Pittman made it a 3-way tie at the top when he birdied the 16th. Spratlin and Pittman both birdied the 17th to move one ahead of Skinner, who fell to fourth with a bogey at the 18th.
Keppler made a late run on the final nine, shooting 5-under 31 the second day, highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 15th, which he followed with birdies at 16 and 18. Anderson also produced a strong final round effort to qualify for nationals, carding seven birdies including three on his last four holes to edge out Taylor for final qualifying spot.
Pittman has won three Chapter championships and two team titles in his years in the Georgia PGA Section, but this was his first win in a points event. It will also be his first trip to a national club professional championship conducted by the PGA of America.
“I’ve never been to nationals,” Pittman said. “I’m excited about it. My family may go with me and make a vacation out of it.”
Pittman is a veteran of the Georgia PGA Section and enjoyed some success in his 30s, qualifying for two of the state’s defunct tour events – the PGATour stop at Callaway Gardens and the Hogan (now Web.com) Tour tournament in Macon. He made a few attempts at PGA Tour qualifying and came close to qualifying for the national club pro championship, making it to regionals four times when there was an added qualifier between the Section and nationals.
“It’s fun to be playing with these guys who I’ve been playing against for 25 years,” Pittman said.
Pittman worked in the Atlanta area for a number of years when he was a head pro with the Canongate family of courses, but has been in Statesboro for a number of years. He taught out of a Statesboro practice facility for five years while sharing child care responsibilities with his wife, and has been head pro at Forest Heights since mid-2015.
“This is perfect,” Pittman says of Forest Heights. “It’s a good, old fashioned country club.”
Now that he has turned 50, Pittman says he has “gotten interested in playing again,” and put on a strong performance in his victory at Glen Arven.
Pittman hit 16 greens in regulation in both rounds, and earned his win with three birdies on the last four playoff holes. He needed putts of only about five feet on both the sixth and seventh playoff holes, and put an end to the lengthy playoff when he made birdie from 12 feet on the ninth extra hole.
“I had bogeyed nine each of the first two rounds and those were my only bogeys,” Pittman said. “Making birdie on the hole in the playoff felt good.”
Pittman had a chance to win the playoff on the previous hole, but missed his par attempt from just inside five feet.
It was the second time Pittman and Spratlin had gone multiple holes in a playoff. The two needed five holes to decide a playoff for an alternate’s spot in a Georgia PGA qualifier for the BellSouth Classic when the event was still played at Atlanta Country Club more than two decades ago.
Like Pittman, Spratlin played quality golf for 45 holes, also hitting 16 greens in regulation in the opening round and not missing another green until the eighth hole of the playoff.
This is just Spratlin’s second year of senior competition. He made it to nationals last year in his first attempt, tying for 21st at the Bayonet course in northern California where he competed in the PGA Professional Championship previously. Spratln doesn’t have as much experience at the south Florida facility that will host the PGA Senior event, but is looking for another top-35 finish that would again qualify him for the Senior PGA Championship next year
The other Georgia PGA qualifiers for the national club pro championship have been regulars in the event in recent years.
Keppler has qualified each year he’s been eligible since 2012, with his best showing a tie for 18th at nationals in 2014.
Skinner has three top 10s in his six appearances in the PGA Senior PC, including a tie for third in 2012. He has been an annual qualifier for the Senior PGA Championship since becoming eligible in 2010.
After competing on the Champions Tour for a decade, Mason made his first appearance in the national senior club pro event in 2013, and has tied for 12th, second and 11th in his only three appearances, making a strong run at victory in 2014.
Stevens has played in the last five senior club pro events and has a pair of top 10s, with his best finish a tie for third in his first appearance in 2011. Like Skinner, Stevens has won the Georgia PGA’s Senior Professional Championship twice, most recently last year.
Anderson will be playing at senior nationals for a third straight year, and got the Section’s final qualifying spot for the event for the second year in a row after placing second behind Keppler in 2013.