When the PGA of America decided to play its national club professional championship several weeks earlier than usual, the Georgia PGA was required to move its qualifier for the event to an earlier date as well.
With a busy summer tournament schedule, the Georgia PGA Senior Championship was moved to the dates usually occupied by the Georgia Women’s Open, which was moved forward a few weeks on the calendar.
Unfortunately, the new dates for the Georgia Women’s Open directly conflicted with three different women’s events in the state that would negatively impact the field for the GWO. With no other good option available to produce the best field possible for the women’s tournament, the Georgia PGA came up with a novel solution.
The Georgia PGA returned the Georgia Women’s Open to its previous date in mid-July, leaving it with two events with the same dates (July 17-18). In order to accommodate both tournaments, neither of which has a large field, the Section decided to play the events at the same site.
Pinetree CC in Kennesaw, which has hosted multiple major events for both the Georgia PGA and GSGA, will serve as the site of an unusual golf doubleheader Monday and Tuesday, which will make for long days for the Georgia PGA tournament staff but will provide a quality – as well as unique – experience for the entrants of both events.
Georgia PGA Tournament Director Pat Day said he will likely send out one of the tournament fields in the morning and the other in the afternoon, but had not decided on the exact times for either event shortly after the entry deadline for both passed on Friday morning.
The Georgia Women’s Open has been played since 1995, with this year the first time Pinetree has hosted the event. Canongate courses on Atlanta’s south side hosted the tournament until 2011, and it was played at Roswell’s Brookfield CC the last four years after a one-year stop at Callaway Gardens.
The field for the 2017 Georgia Women’s Open will be missing some familiar names, including almost all its past champions. Three-time champion Margaret Shirley (2005, ’08 and ’13) will be unable to play this year, and Kendall Wright and Karen Paolozzi, the 2012 and ’14 winners are also missing from the field.
Two former champions – Mariah Stackhouse (2009) and Dori Carter (2011) – are playing on the LPGA Tour this year, but the tournament will have a recent LPGA player in the field, who is also one of two players in the field who have won the Georgia Women’s Open.
Ashlan Ramsey won the GWO with a record-setting performance at Brookfield in 2015, and went on to qualify for the LPGA Tour later that year. Ramsey struggled during her rookie season and is playing on the Symetra Tour this year, but is still attempting to return to the level of play that made her one of the country’s top female amateurs before she turned pro after competing on the 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
Ramsey shot 12-under 132 to win the Georgia Women’s Open by seven shots in 2015, but dropped to a tie for 17th last year with a 146 total.
Returning to defend her title is North Carolinian Meagan Wallace, who won in a playoff over former college rival Kaylin Yost after both finished at 6-under 138. Wallace, who played her college golf at Winthrop, had little professional experience when she won the tournament, which required a significant comeback in the final round.
Five of the next six players behind Wallace and Yost on last year’s leader board will all be back in the field. Payton Schanen of Johns Creek, a member of the golf team at Mercer, was fourth at 140, with Roswell’s Jessica Haigwood, who recently completed her college career at Augusta State, fifth at 141.
Haigwood was fourth in the tournament at Callaway Gardens in 2012 and was runner-up the next three years at Brookfield, where she played her high school golf.
Tying for sixth last year at 142 was the trio of Auburn golfers Michaela Owen and Kayley Marschke, both from the Atlanta area, and Newnan’s Ji Eun Baik, who has turned pro after playing at Mississippi State.
Other pros in the field included fellow recent collegians Amira Alexander of Alpharetta, Lacey Fears of Bonaire and Emee Herbert, a former Atlanta area resident now living in Florida. Former LPGA player Angela Jerman Ormsby of LaGrange, who was second in the Georgia Women’s Open while she was a member of the golf team at Georgia in 2001, is also competing, as is current UGA golfer Rinko Mitsunaga of Roswell, who will be one of the players to beat.
Fears, who is working as an instructor at Idle Hour in Macon, and Ashtyn Siter, an assistant at CC of Columbus, are the only two Georgia club professionals in the field. Paolozzi, an assistant at Druid Hills GC, won in her debut in the GWO in 2014, tied for second behind Ramsey the next year and was a contender in 2016, but had to withdraw from the field due to her work schedule.
There are approximately 60 women in the field, with Wallace one of about a dozen players taking advantage of the decision by the Georgia PGA several years ago to allow players from outside Georgia to compete in the tournament.
The field for the Georgia PGA Senior Championship will consist of about 40 competitors, who will vie for five spots at nationals.
Judging by recent history, the five most likely players to qualify for nationals are Mark Anderson, Stephen Keppler, James Mason, Sonny Skinner and Craig Stevens, who are all looking to continue multiple-year streaks of qualifying for the PGA Senior Professional Championship.
Anderson, an instructor at Brunswick CC, has qualified the last three years, placing second in the Georgia PGA event in 2014 and narrowly making it each of the last two years.
Keppler, the Director of Golf at Marietta CC, has qualified each year since he’s been eligible in 2012, but has competed at nationals only the past three years. He has made it to the Senior PGA Championship twice in that span, including this year, and also recently qualified for the U.S. Senior Open, where he was on the leader board after an opening 67. Keppler won the 2014 GPGA Senior Championship at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek. He was third last year at Glen Arven in Thomasville, one shot out of a playoff.
Mason, who competed on the Champions Tour for more than a decade and plays out of The Orchard, has played in the PGA Senior PNC the last four years, ands has several top finishes at nationals, including a tie for second in 2014.
Skinner, also a veteran former tour pro, has qualified for nationals each of the last seven years. He won the Georgia PGA qualifier in both 2010 and ’13, placed second in 2011 and ’12, and has finished no lower than fourth in all seven appearances. He was fourth last year, two out of the playoff. Skinner was third at nationals in 2012 and tied for 10th in 2014.
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone G&CC, is 6-for-6 in qualifying for nationals, placing third in his first appearance in 2011 and tying for sixth in the 2013 event. He won the Georgia Section qualifiers in 2012 and ’15 and finished no lower than third five straight times before tying for sixth last year.
Joining the Georgia PGA’s five usual qualifiers last year were the two players who tied at 8-under 136 at Glen Arven . Drew Pittman, the head pro at Forest Heights in Statesboro, needed nine playoff holes to take first over Currahee Director of Golf Clark Spratlin. It was the first senior appearance for Pittman, with Spratlin making it to the PGA Senior Championship in his first attempt the year before.
Pittman will be back to defend his title at Pinetree, but Spratlin is still recovering from a serious car accident and will miss the tournament.
Other players looking to earn one of the five spots at nationals are Russ Davis of Ansley GC, Wyatt Detmer of Callaway Gardens, Danny Elkins of Georgia Golf Center, Charlie King of the Griffin City golf course, Donn Perno of Peachtree GC and Brian Puterbaugh of The Hooch.
Davis qualified for nationals for a seventh time in 2015, with King making a second straight appearance that year. Elkins won the Georgia section qualifier in 2011.
The PGA Senior Professional Championship will be played Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Az. The top 35 finishers will earn spots in the 2018 PGA Senior Championship.