Georgia PGA members James Mason and Paul Claxton qualified for the 2019 Senior PGA Championship with top-35 finishes in last week’s Senior PGA Professional Championship in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
Mason, one of the oldest competitors in the field at the age of 67, tied for 17th at 2-under 286 with scores of 74-70-71-71. Claxton tied for 27th at even par 288 with scores of 71-72-70-75.
The top 35 finishers in the tournament, played at the PGA Golf Club, earned spots in the field for next year’s Senior PGA Championship, which will be played in late May at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
Mason and Claxton were the only Georgia PGA members to make it to the final round. Woodmont instructor Craig Stevens made the 36-hole cut with scores of 74 and 70, but missed the 54-hole cut by two after shooting 77 in the third round.
Sonny Skinner missed the 36-hole cut by two shots at 148, with Glen Herrell of Doublegate in Albany missing by three at 149 and Danny Elkins of Georgia Golf Center next at 150. Both Todd Peterson of Capital City Club and Ted Meier of Flat Creek shot 154 for 36 holes.
Former Georgia PGA member Dave Bahr, now a club pro in Cincinnati, tied for 29th at 289 to qualify for next year’s Senior PGA Championship. Kevin Roman, also a former Georgia PGA member now at Monterrey Peninsula CC in Pebble Beach, Calif., shot 296 for 72 holes and finished outside the top 35. Both Bahr and Roman worked at Atlanta’s Cherokee Town and CC.
Mason’s next start will be the 200th of his career on the Champions Tour since he turned 50 in 2001. He won a long-since-defunct tour event in New Jersey in 2002 as a Monday qualifier, and was a regular on the tour for a decade, making occasional starts the past half-dozen years.
During his years on the Champions Tour, Mason has been an annual entrant in the Senior PGA Championship, and qualified for the event in 2018 after missing the tournament for just the second time in 15 years in 2017. Mason made the cut in the event for the last time in 2014, tying for 48th and has one career top-10 finish in the event. He finished among the top 50 money winners on the Champions Tour three times in his first four seasons and again in 2009, and has career earnings of just over $3 million.
Mason’s last big moment on the tour came in North Carolina in 2009, when he almost won a tournament for the second time as a Monday qualifier. Mason shot 65 in the final round of the Greater Hickory Classic, but lost in a playoff, and has not played in more than four events in a season since 2013.
After not playing in any Champions Tour tournaments in 2017, Mason qualified for two this year. He made it into the Senior PGA Championship after a strong showing in the 2017 Senior PGA club professional championship, and played his way into the field for the tour stop in Raleigh last month, again as a Monday qualifier. He shot 74-74-76 and tied for 70th.
Prior to joining the Champions Tour, Mason was a long-time Georgia PGA member after playing professionally for several years following his college career at Auburn. Between 1989 and 2001, he qualified for the BellSouth Classic five times, the Southern Open/Buick Challenge four times and competed in the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot.
Mason emerged as one of the top players in the Georgia PGA Section in his late 40s, winning his first events at the age of 46 in the 1997 Section Championship and Polo Classic. He won six Georgia PGA tournaments between 1997 and 2000, including the Section Championship for the second and third times in 1999 and 2000, and the Atlanta Open in 2000. He earned Player of the Year honors in 1997, ’98 and 2000, the latter year at the age of 49.
After turning 50 in 2001, Mason won the Georgia Senior Open and Georgia PGA Senior Championship before spending the next dozen years on the Champions Tour.
Since his return to competing in Georgia PGA events, Mason won his fourth Georgia PGA Championship in 2015 at the age of 64, and added two more Georgia Senior Open titles in 2015 and ’17. He has finished in the top 10 on the Georgia PGA Player of the Year points list each of the last four years, placing third in 2015.
Mason is a Duluth native and long time resident of Dillard in northeast Georgia, with his family owning Sky Valley Resort in Dillard from 1975-91. He plays out of the Orchard in Clarkesville and is a Lifetime PGA member, continuing as an instructor when he’s not playing. He was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2016.
Claxton, normally an extremely steady player, had an up-and-down week in south Florida, carding 18 birdies and an eagle, but also had three double bogeys on the week and almost as many bogeys as birdies. He has enjoyed success in national PGA events prior to last week, tying for third in his first appearance in the PGA Professional Championship in 2016, which earned him a spot in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow later that year.
From 1995 to 2014, Claxton played 16 seasons on what is now the Web.com Tour and four on the PGA Tour. He competed in four Champions Tour events this season including the PGA Senior Championship, and will make a second attempt at Champions Tour Q-school in November.
During his career as a tour player, Claxton won twice on what is now the Web.com Tour, and was a consistent money winner. He was the first player on tour to reach $1 million in career earnings and still ranks near the top of the all-time money list.
After leaving the tour in 2014, Claxton took the job as Director of Golf at Hawk’s Point in his hometown of Vidalia, but the long-struggling club has since ceased operations. Claxton has been competing in Georgia PGA events since 2016, winning the Georgia Open and the Section’s qualifier for the national club pro championship last year, and three events in 2018 – the season-opening tournament at Chattahoochee GC, the GPGA Senior Championship and the Section Championship.
After placing fourth and sixth in the GPGA points standings in 2016 and ’17, Claxton earned Player of the Year honors in 2018, which gets him a spot in the PGA Tour RSM Classic at Sea Island GC next month. However, the first stage of Champions Tour qualifying conflicts with the RSM Classic, and Claxton will be competing that week in California instead of playing close to home on St. Simons Island.
Claxton is living in the southeast Georgia community that shares his last name, and when he’s not on the road competing in tournaments, teaches a few days a week at Brunswick CC. Claxton played his college golf at Georgia, winning five college events along with two national amateur tournaments. Shortly after completing his college career, Claxton won the 1992 Georgia Amateur at Athens CC, and enjoyed early success on regional mini-tours after turning pro before joining what was then known as the Nike Tour in 1995.
During his four seasons on the PGA Tour between 1997 and 2008, Claxton played in more than 100 tournaments, but was unable to approach the success he enjoyed on the Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide Tour, losing his tour card after each of those four seasons.