The last time Donn Perno made it to the semifinals of the Georgia PGA Match Play Championship, he captured the title at East Lake Golf Club in 2013.
Perno is back in the semifinals four years later, but this time he will be playing on his home course, with Peachtree Golf Club hosting the final two rounds for the fourth straight year.
This year’s semifinals and finals are scheduled for Aug. 14, and Perno is part of a mostly different final four that will be competing for the title.
The only returning member among last year’s semifinalists is James Mason, at the age of 66 the veteran player of the group but with the least experience in the event. Mason enjoyed little success in the Match Play when he was the Georgia PGA’s Player of the Year three times in a four-year stretch from 1997-2000, and did not play in the event during his decade-plus of competing on the Champions Tour, returning last year when he reached the semifinals before losing to Sonny Skinner.
Mason and Perno are joined in the semifinals by a third member of the Georgia PGA’s outstanding contingent of seniors – Wyatt Detmer. The 60-year old Detmer is the most surprising semifinalist, advancing this deep into the tournament for the first time since 2006, when he lost the title match to Skinner.
The only non-senior among the semifinalists is Kyle Owen, who is looking to reclaim first place in the Georgia PGA Player of the Year standings. Owen made it past the quarterfinals for the first time after four straight years in which he was eliminated in either the quarters or third round.
Mason is the highest seed among the four, entering the tournament seeded third in the 64-player field. Owen was seeded seventh, Perno ninth and Detmer 20th, with Mason and Owen playing in one semifinal and Perno vs. Detmer in the other.
Both semifinal matches will be played in the morning, with the winners competing for the title after a short break for lunch.
Perno will have the home course advantage, but did not need it four years ago. He defeated Owen in the quarterfinals in 2013, and got a break in his title match, when two-time tournament champion Craig Stevens had to withdraw after nine holes with heat exhaustion.
The four semifinalists that year had to walk in the summer heat at East Lake, but Peachtree has allowed the players to use carts the last three years and that will be the case this year.
Perno, the head pro at Peachtree, had his toughest match in the quarterfinals, winning 1-up against Oak Mountain head pro Kevin Gibbs, the No. 32 seed. Gibbs advanced with the biggest upset of the tournament, knocking off No. 1 seed and three-time champion Tim Weinhart, a semifinalist at Peachtree each of the last two years.
Gibbs defeated Weinhart 2-up in the second round and defeated 17th seed Matthew Sanders, an assistant at Oak Mountain, by a 3&2 score in the third round. Perno advanced to the quarterfinals with a 2&1 over No. 8 seed Chris Carlisle of West Pines in the third round.
Prior to his victory in the Match Play four years ago, Perno’s best previous showing in the event was a spot in the quarterfinals in 2004.
Since his runner-up finish in 2006, the only time Detmer has been past the second round came in 2009, when he lost in the third round to 2008 champion Shawn Koch. Detmer also had his toughest match in the quarterfinals, needing 19 holes to get past Jim Sykes of The Landings.
The highest seeded player Detmer has faced on his way to the semifinals was No. 13 Chris Leake, also of The Landings, with Detmer winning 2&1 in the second round. Detmer, the head pro at Callaway Gardens, also won 2&1 in the third round over No. 29 Curtis Knight of Laurel Island Links.
Mason did not go past 16 holes in his first three matches, but needed 19 holes to defeat No. 6 Brian Dixon of Fox Creek in the quarterfinals. Dixon, who dominated his first three matches, has put together a long and successful record in the Match Play Championship, reaching the semifinals in 1994 and winning in both 1997 and 2014. The latter victory ended a stretch in which he lost eight straight times in the third round, and his loss to Mason marked the third consecutive year he has been eliminated in the quarterfinals, the last two times by Mason.
To reach the quarterfinals, Mason won back-to-back matches by scores of 3&2 over 2007 champion Greg Lee of Chicopee Woods and Randy Brooks, the head pro at The Orchard. Mason, who plays out of The Orchard, won the Georgia Senior Open earlier this year along with four straight Senior Division events, and placed 12th and 11th in his two starts in Georgia PGA Section events prior to the Georgia Open.
Owen, the head pro at Dunwoody CC, placed second in the first two Georgia PGA events on the 2017 calendar, but received first place points in both, as the tournament at Rivermont was won by a non-Class A PGA pro and the Atlanta Open was won by an amateur.
This is the fifth straight year Owen has advanced to at least the third round, making it to the quarterfinals in 2013 and ’16, losing to Weinhart the latter year. His lone victory in a Georgia PGA event came at Chicopee Woods in 2014.
Owen won1-up in the second round over Peter Jones of Cherokee Town & CC before ousting 10th seeded Danny Elkins of Georgia Golf Center4&3 in the third round. He also scored a narrow victory in the quarterfinals, getting past Koch 1-up.
This was the first time Koch has been past the third round since he made it to the semifinals three straight times from 2007 to ’09, winning in 2008. Koch, the Director of Instruction at Country Club of the South, lost in the third round in 2010, ’12 and 13. He knocked out Seth McCain of Jennings Mill, the No. 2 seed and defending tournament champion, 3&1 in his third round match this year.
McCain was one of several top seeds to lose early in the tournament. Fourth-seeded Hank Smith of Frederica GC and fifth seeded Todd Ormsby of Highland CC both lost in the first round, opening the top half of the bracket for Perno and Detmer.
Several of the Georgia PGA’s top players were not in the field for the tournament, including former champions Skinner, Stevens, Mark Anderson, Stephen Keppler and Clark Spratlin, who is unable to compete due to injuries suffered in a car accident. Paul Claxton, last week’s Georgia Open champion who is playing in the 2017 PGA Championship this week, also was missing from the field, along with some of the Section’s top non-Class A pros, who were locked out of the 64-player field when it was filled by Class A members.