The final round of the Georgian PGA Professional Championship earlier this week was halted twice by rain delays, with the wet conditions having a significant impact on the final outcome.
More than 60 Georgia PGA members were competing for five spots in next year’s PGA Professional Championship, with Paul Claxton already in the field thanks to his victory in the Section Championship at Sea Island GC.
On a day when the average score was almost 79, and would have been higher had approximately one-fourth of the field not turned in their scorecards, the low score was even par 72. Both players who matched par on Barnsley’s demanding layout were among the six to qualify and one of them came away with the victory and first place check of $3500.
Dunwoody CC head pro Kyle Owen, the 2017 Georgia PGA Player of the Year, captured his first victory in the event, finishing with a 1-under 143 total to edge out Claxton, whose runner-up finish gave him Player of the Year honors over Sonny Skinner, who tied for third at 145.
Also tying for third was Carterville CC head pro Bill Hassell and Augusta National assistant Robby Bruns. Oak Mountain assistant Matthew Sanders got the final spot at nationals, winning a playoff over Capital City Club assistant J.P. Griffin after both players shot 2-over 146.
First round leader Andrew Sterritt of Big Canoe and Danny Elkins of the Georgia Golf Center missed the playoff by one shot at 147.
The second round on Tuesday was played in what Owen described as “nasty” conditions, with play stopped twice due to a steady rain and the final groups finishing shortly before dark after an a.m. start.
“It was a long, hard-fought day,” said Owen, who began the final round tied for fourth after opening with a 71.
Owen and Claxton were paired together Tuesday in the next-to-last group, and even though Claxton kept Owen’s scorecard, neither player was fully aware about how each stood relative to the other and had no idea about what was transpiring in front of and behind them.
Owen said he felt that “Paul and I were inside the number,” as the two players closed out their rounds, with the possibility that they may be close to the lead, “with the conditions like they were.”
Sterritt, who opened with a 68, parred the first seven holes Tuesday and was tied at that stage by Hassell. Both players bogeyed the par-3 eighth and Sterritt followed with a bogey at the ninth, the second of five straight bogeys that dropped him down the leader board. He steadied himself with four consecutive pars and was still inside the number with two holes to play, but bogeys at 17 and 18, the two most difficult holes on the course Tuesday, left him one shot out of the playoff after a round of 79.
Hassell took the outright lead, but was tied first by Owen, who birdied 9 and 10, back-to-back par 5s. Skinner, who began his day by holing out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 first, had two more birdies on the front nine and turned in 2-under before a birdie at the par-5 12th put him in a tie with Hassell and just ahead of Owen, who bogeyed the 11th.
Skinner needed to finish even with Claxton to earn Player of the year honors, and was four ahead of his fellow ex-tour pro when disaster struck at the par-4 13th. A triple bogey dropped Skinner back to even par, and into a tie with Claxton, who birdied the par-5 12th.
When Owen bogeyed holes 13 and 15, two of three bogeys in a five-hole span, Hassell was the only player on the course under par. A bogey at the 13th dropped Hassell to 2-under, and a double bogey at the 16th cost him the lead.
Playing in the group in front of Hassell, both Owen and Claxton birdied the 16th to move to 1-under, with Owen securing his victory with pars at 17 and 18, while Claxton bogeyed the 18th for a 73. Skinner, playing in the group in front of Claxton, also bogeyed the 18th for a 73 to finish one shot behind him in a tie for third. Had he and Claxton tied for the tournament, Skinner would have claimed Player of the Year honors.
Hassell, who shot 69 in the first round, held on to his spot at nationals despite a second round 76, playing his last three holes in 3-over.
Bruns was the only player other than Owen to match par the final day, and played an outstanding back nine after going out in 3-over. He followed bogeys at 8 and 9 with birdies at 10 and 12, both par 5s, to get back into contention for one of the qualifying positions, and locked up his spot among the top 5 with a birdie at the long and perilous par-3 17th, which played to an average of 3.83 Tuesday.
The two tough finished holes (the 18th averaged 4.87 Tuesday), almost cost Sanders his spot at nationals. After a double bogey at the fourth, he played steadily from that point, holding at even par with birdies at 10 and 15. But he bogeyed 17 and 18 for a 76 to fall into a tie for sixth with Griffin, the only player other than Bruns to shoot under par on the back nine.
Griffin shot 73 the first day and was 3-over on the front Tuesday before birdies at 12 and 13 got him to 2-over for the tournament. He parred in from there for a 73 before losing to Sanders on the first playoff hole.
The player most damaged by the two finishing holes was Elkins, who was looking to join Skinner as players well into their 50s qualifying for nationals. After an opening 74, Elkins went out in 3-under Tuesday, and carded six straight pars after a bogey on the par-5 10th to come to the 17th tee even par for the tournament. But he finished bogey-double bogey to miss the playoff for the final spot by one stroke at 147.
Owen carded four birdies and four bogeys in his 72, avoiding any serious mistakes in the difficult conditions.
“I was happy with that score, even par,” he said. Owen was 2-under for the day after consecutive birdies at 9 and 10, but said he “kind of lost it” with three bogeys on his next five holes.
“I felt really good about how I played the first 27, 28 holes. On the last eight holes, my putter saved me.”
The big putt for Owen down the stretch was an 18-footer for birdie at the 16th that gave him a share of the lead. Clutch pars at 17 and 18 gave him the victory and first place check of $3500.
“I feel like this is a really good win against the best players in the Section. Any time you end up on top, it’s an honor.”
This will be Owen’s fourth time to play at nationals, with two of the first three in California and the other in Pennsylvania. The 2019 national club pro championship will be played in South Carolina not far from Savannah, which Owen said should enable him to get to the site ahead of time for a practice round or two.
Skinner is the veteran of the group when it comes to qualifying for nationals, qualifying every year but one since becoming eligible in 2006. Claxton has qualified each of the last three years and placed third at nationals in his first appearance in 2016. Sanders has qualified each of the last two years, losing in a playoff to Claxton for first place last year at Champions Retreat.
Both Hassell and Bruns will be playing at nationals for the first time as Georgia PGA embers. Griffin is the first alternate from the Section and has a realistic chance of getting into the 312-player field.