Wins GPGA Senior PNC by 3 over Stevens …
Unlike the other competitors in the Georgia PGA Senior Championship, Sonny Skinner did not have to worry about qualifying for the 2013 PGA Senior Professional National Championship.
Skinner was already exempt for that event, placing 3rd in last year’s PGA Senior PNC in Virginia. The recent Georgia PGA Senior Championship served as a qualifier for the national event, as well as serving as the Section’s championship for its senior players.
Craig Stevens, who won the Georgia PGA Section Championship two weeks earlier at Sea Island GC, was in position for a sweep of the two titles, opening with a 66 to share the lead with Tommy Brannen.
But on a day when no other player broke 70, Skinner fired a 7-under 65 at Ansley Golf Club’s demanding Settindown Creek course, coming from four strokes behind to win by three.
Skinner finished with a 9-under 135 total after carding a 70 in the opening round. Stevens, the tournament’s defending champion, was 2nd at 138 after a final round 72. The only other player to break par for 36 holes was Champions Tour player and PGA Lifetime Member James Mason, who finished at 4-under 140 after back-to-back scores of 70.
Also qualifying for the PGA Senior PNC were Brannen (144), Russell Smith (145), Jeff Gotham (146), Stephen Keppler (146) and Bob Burk (147), who won a one-hole playoff over Ansley GC Director of Golf Phil Taylor for the final spot. Despite losing the playoff, Taylor made it into the PNC field as an alternate.
Smith, the head professional at Bent Tree, and Gotham, the Director of Golf at Cateechee GC, qualified for nationals for the first time. Keppler, who qualified for the event last year but was unable to play, will be competing in his first PGA Senior PNC. The event was played in Virginia Oct. 10-13.
Skinner, a veteran tour player who has competed full time in the Georgia PGA Section since 2006, was 2nd behind Stevens in last year’s Senior PNC at Pinetree CC, but reversed the outcome with an outstanding final round. He had seven birdies and no bogeys on his scorecard, playing the par 3s in 3-under and the par 4s in 4-under.
“That’s the best round I’ve played in the Section for years,” Skinner said. “That’s the best I’ve putted in a long time. I gave myself a lot of make-able opportunities.”
Skinner turned in 3-under after birdies at Settindown’s shortest but perilous par 4s (2 and 8), as well as the par-3 fifth, one of his three birdies on the day on the par 3s. But early on the back nine he still trailed Stevens by three, as Stevens holed a long birdie putt on the par-4 sixth and reached the par-5 10th in two for a 2-putt birdie.
The second of Skinner’s par-3 birdies began his back nine surge, as he hit it close on the 12th, the longest of Settindown’s par 3s, and holed the putt. A 3-putt at the 13th resulted in Stevens’ first bogey of the day, and Skinner pulled even when he hit another precise approach shot at the par-4 14th and rolled in another birdie putt.
The tournament turned at the 15th, with Skinner holing a long and treacherous putt down the slope for par. Stevens, playing in the final group just behind Skinner’s threesome, had his second shot scoot though the green and was unable to save par, yielding the lead to Skinner.
Leading by one with two holes to play, Skinner closed out his round with consecutive birdies, capping a back nine in which he made up six shots on Stevens over the final seven holes.
Skinner won the Georgia PGA Senior PNC in 2010, his first year of senior eligibility, and edged out Stevens to win the 2012 Georgia Senior Open. He’s also enjoyed success at the national level in Senior PGA events, earning low club pro honors in the 2011 Senior PGA Championship and contending for low club pro each of the last two years.
In addition to his third place showing in the PGA Senior PNC last year, he has twice finished 2nd in the PGA PNC in 2008 and 2010, and recently made his third appearance in the PGA Championship since ’08.
Skinner has made three starts on the Champions Tour this year, twice earning spots in the fields in Monday qualifiers, including the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open the week after the PGA Championship.
For most of his career as a tour player, Skinner played what is now the Web.com Tour, but was also a PGA Tour member for four years in the 1990s. He has been the PGA pro at River Pointe in Albany in recent years, and was awaiting the finalization of the sale of the club for a possible change in his status there.
Skinner was looking forward to a return to the Virginia courses where he nearly won the PGA Senior PNC title last year.
“I played good there last year and I had a chance to win, but Jim Woodward made eagle on the last hole.”
Stevens, an instructor at Brookstone G&CC, had eight birdies in his opening 66, including seven in a 10-hole stretch from 3 to 12. But he managed just two birdies in his even par round of 72, with just only players breaking par on the day.
Mason, who Monday qualified for recent Champions Tour events in Seattle and Montreal, matched Skinner’s 3-under 33 on the front and was even with him with seven holes to play. But back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15 ended his hopes.
Brannen, the head pro at Augusta CC, was within two shots of Skinner’s lead after 16 holes, but found himself in some unfortunate spots in two of the penal bunkers guarding the green at the par-3 17th and made a seven on the hole. After shooting 66 the first day, he fell back with a final round 78, but still qualified for nationals. He was the only other Georgia PGA member to make the cut in last year’s Senior PNC along with Skinner.
Smith and Gotham both closed with 1-under 71s to make it to nationals for the first time, no small feat considering the talent among the Georgia PGA’s senior contingent.
“Players like Sonny, Craig and Steven make you challenge yourself,” Smith said. “You’re not going to shoot 75 or 74 and qualify for anything. I’m excited about playing at nationals.”
Gotham made it to nationals on his second attempt after missing the age cutoff by three days two years ago. Like Smith, Gotham has had to compete for years against the Section’s most accomplished players, and says it is “a real thrill to be able to represent the Georgia Section in our national tournament.”
This will be Gotham’s first time in either the PNC or Senior PNC, but he will have plenty of players who can answer any questions he might have about the tournament.
Keppler was accustomed to making annual trips to the PGA PNC, recording a number of top finishes in it to qualify for the PGA Championship four times. But this will be his first time as a senior.
A poor finish in the opening round left Keppler with 72, and he struggled on the back nine again in the final round, playing the first five holes in 3-over to jeopardize his spot among the qualifiers.
But he responded with a birdie on the par-4 18th after hitting his second shot close, allowing him to avoid a playoff.
Burk, the head pro at Stone Creek in Valdosta, bogeyed two of his last four holes for a 74, but managed to get into a playoff for the final spot with Taylor, who shot 79 after a 68 the day before.
Taylor did not make a bogey the first round, but lost a ball after his tee shot hit a branch on the ninth hole and made triple bogey. Three bogeys on his last six holes dropped Taylor into a tie for the final qualifying spot, and another bogey on the first extra hole (the 18th) put a quick end to the playoff.
Burk played in the Senior PNC in Virginia in 2011, with Taylor qualifying last year.
Four players missed tying for the final qualifying spot by one shot each at 148. Brian Puterbaugh, an instructor at The Hooch, won a playoff for second alternate. Puterbaugh shot a final round 71, highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 11th after four birdies on the front nine. But a bogey at the 18th cost him a spot in the playoff.
Cherokee Town & CC Director of Instruction Russ Davis also had an eagle on a par 4, holing out on the par-4 sixth. He shot 70 the second round with birdies at 15 and 16. Rob Allen, head pro at Stonebridge G&CC in Albany, birdied his final four holes the second day, but could not overcome two double bogeys on the front nine and settled for a 73.
Playing in his first senior event, Crooked Oak head pro Winston Trively also shot 73 the final day to miss the playoff by one.