Weinhart takes PNC qualifier after long day
Stevens ties for 2nd; earns Player of Year honor
By Mike Blum
After the first round of the Georgia PGA’s qualifier for the national club professional championship was rained out, the tournament competitors faced a marathon second day beginning with a shotgun start, as they raced to get in 36 holes before darkness set in.
Out of more than 120 players who signed up for the event, 93 made it through all 36 holes at the Standard Club, with all 93 barely completing their rounds in fading daylight. They were competing for seven available spots in next year’s PGA Professional National Championship, and fortunately for all involved, no playoff was required to determine the qualifiers.
Tim Weinhart, who teaches with the Nuclear Golf instructional program based at the Standard Club, won the event for the fourth time in the last seven years, posting scores of 69 and 68 for a 7-under 137 total.
Craig Stevens and Brian Dixon tied for 2nd at 139, with Sonny Skinner and Greg Lee 4th at 140. Skinner was already exempt for the PNC thanks to his win in the Georgia PGA Championship five weeks earlier, with Bill Murchison also guaranteed a spot in the PNC field after his top 10 finish at nationals last year.
Murchison tied for 6th at 141 along with Shawn Koch and Georgia PGA veterans Gregg Wolff and Tommy Brannen, with the latter two among four senior players from the Section to qualify for the PNC, joining Stevens and Skinner.
Weinhart, who won the event last year at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek, was intent on winning the tournament, not just qualifying for nationals, which he has done each of the last 14 years.
“This is my home golf course,” he said after the victory. “I wanted to win.”
Because of the shotgun start, which was in effect for both rounds with no re-pairing or break between the rounds, no one knew where they stood relatively to the lead or the score needed to qualify.
Stevens, who shot 68 in the morning, and Weinhart were the only two players to break 70 in the first round, with scores improving in the afternoon after what Weinhart described as “a soupy course to say the least,” began to dry out a bit.
Weinhart lauded the Standard Club’s superintendent and his staff for getting the course in tournament shape, and said he was “amazed that we finished. It was getting very dark.”
Some early par-saving putts kept Weinhart’s first round going, and once he got his iron game clicking, began to make some birdies. He finished with 10 birdies on the day, including the last two holes of his morning round for a 69, and four of his final 11 holes in the afternoon. Weinhart earned $4,000 for his victory.
As it turned out, Weinhart and playing partner Dixon wound up in a battle for first place. Dixon, an instructor at Fox Creek, made just two bogeys over 36 holes. But one came on the tough par-4 ninth in the second round, the 34th hole of the day for the two players and the first for Dixon after his opening hole of the day. Dixon had scores of 70-69.
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone CC. wrapped up Player of the Year honors with his tie for 2nd, his fifth runner-up finish of the year to go along with his win in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship.
It was the third Player of the Year title for Stevens, his first since 2001, and the 16th time he has qualified for the PNC.
“This is pretty special,” he said of his third Player of the Year title. “It shows I can still play with the young guys.
“I’ve been second so many times for Player of the Year, probably five or six times behind Weinhart. But since about 1998, I’ve been really consistent, probably the most consistent player in the Section along with Tim.
“There were a couple of years in ’08 and ‘09 where I kind of lost it, but when I turned 50 I had the desire to try harder. I’ve got a few years left and I’m trying as hard as I can.”
Stevens’ 68 in the morning was highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 12th, and he was 4-under for the round on the par 5s. But he opened his second round with back-to-back bogeys and needed a birdie on his final hole of the day – the par-5 second – to tie Dixon for 2nd.
Skinner, who finished 2nd behind Stevens in the Player of the Year standings, carded back-to-back scores of 70. Skinner, who plays out of River Pointe in Albany, qualified for the PNC for a sixth straight time.
Lee, an assistant at Chicopee Woods, also shot 70 in both rounds to earn an eighth trip to nationals. A double bogey on the third hole of his morning round put him in an early hole, but he was 4-under over his final 15 holes without a bogey. He was 3-under over his first nine holes in the afternoon and held on to qualify.
Like Skinner, Murchison was already exempt for the PNC. He closed with a tournament best 67 despite a triple bogey on the 9th, his seventh hole of the round. Murchison, an assistant at Towne Lake Hills, was 4-under on his round after six holes, going birdie-birdie-eagle on holes 5, 6 and 7. He shot 4-under 32 on the back nine and ended his day with a birdie in the twilight on the par-5 second, playing the par 5s in 5-under on the round.
This will be Murchison’t third straight start in the PNC. He got in this year as an alternate when Skinner withdrew to play in a Champions Tour event, and took advantage of his opportunity with a top-10 finish in the 2012 PNC in northern California.
After shooting 72 in the morning with 16 pars, Koch notched five birdies in the afternoon. He was 4-under over his final 13 holes to advance on the number. Koch. the Director of Instruction at CC of the South, has played in three previous PNCs. and has consistently finished right around the number for advancing to nationals in recent years.
Brannen and Wolff have been frequent qualifiers for the PNC, just not in recent years. Brannen, the head professional at Augusta CC, last qualified in 2007, with Wolff, the head pro ay Willow Lake in Metter, last qualifying in ’05.
After shooting 73 in the morning, Brannen came back with a bogey-free 68 to qualify on the number. Wolff also shot 73-68, closing his round with a birdie at the 18th to avoid a playoff.
The first alternate is Augusta National assistant Jason Ballard, who finished 10th at 142 with scores of 72-70. Ballard was 2-over for the tournament with seven holes to play, but went 5-under on his next five holes with an eagle on the seventh to get to 3-under, the number needed to at least get into a playoff. But he bogeyed the long par-4 ninth, his 17th hole of the day, and missed by a shot.
The 2013 PGA PNC will be played June 23-26 at Sunriver Resort in Oregon, which previously hosted the event in 2001 and ’07. The resort’s Crosswater Club, the primary of the two tournament courses, was designed by Atlanta-based architect Bob Cupp.
Weinhart has appeared in the PGA Championship five times, but did not qualify either time the PNC was played at Sunriver. This time he has a strong personal incentive for making it to the 2013 PGA Championship, which will be played at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, N.Y.
Although Weinhart has lived in the Atlanta area for more than 30 years, he was born in Rochester and lived there until he was 12. He has strong family ties to his hometown, with a sizeable number of relatives still there.
“My mom was one of 10 children and my dad was one of six. I have 31 first cousins on my mother’s side. The PGA at Oak Hill is definitely on my radar.”
Weinhart has been the Georgia PGA’s Player of the Year seven times, from 2002-05 and from 2009-11. He was 4th this year, winning the first and last tournaments of the year (the Match Play and PNC qualifier), as well as earning medalist honors in the Section’s qualifier for Nationwide Tour Stadion Classic at UGA.
But he missed two points events, one because he qualified for the U.S. Open, and was unable to make up that deficit.
Of San Francisco’s Olympic Club, the host course for the 2012 Open, Weinhart simply said, “Oh God, it was hard. I learned I have to control my ball better and be able to work it in both directions. The experience was worthwhile and it was very educational.”
In assessing the two major championships in which he’s played, Weinhart said, “At the PGA, you’re one of the club pros. At the Open, you’re one of the players, period. That’s the difference. It didn’t matter who you were.”
After making one U.S. Open start, Weinhart wants another.
“I can’t wait to get to Merion,” he says of the site of the 2013 Open. “I want to get there desperately.”
The next two stops on Weinhart’s itinerary are also big ones. He plays this month in the PGA Tour McGladrey Classic at Sea Island GC, where he has played well each of the last two years, narrowly missing the cut both times.
The following week he will play in the first stage of PGA Tour qualifying, looking to make it to the finals for just the second time. He earned limited status on the Nationwide Tour in 2007, but only made it into nine events and has been itching to get another shot at playing at that level or higher ever since.