Nine-time Georgia PGA Player of the Year Tim Weinhart will shoot for a third straight Georgia PGA Championship title and fourth overall when the tournament is played August 27-29 at Sea Island Golf Club’s Retreat course.
Weinhart. The Director of Instruction at Heritage Golf Links, has compiled an impressive record in the championship over the past two decades, recording 17 top-10 finishes in the 18 tournaments he has played in since 1999. He has not been out of the top 10 since 2001 with the exception of 2007, when he was playing on what is now the Web.com Tour and did not play in the Section Championship.
After finishes of second, fourth and third between 2002 and ’04, Weinhart won the event for the first time in 2005, and has not placed outside the top four over the last eight years, taking second in 2010, ’13, ’14 and ’15. He won in 2016 on the Seaside course, the site of his first victory in the event, and repeated last year at Retreat.
Seaside and Retreat have been the primary courses for the tournament since 2001, with Seaside the host course eight times and Retreat six. Plantation, which has been added as a second course along with Seaside for the annual PGA Tour RSM Classic, has been the site of the Section Championship three times in that span.
Weinhart began the final round each of the last two years three shots off the lead, trailing Capital City Club’s Cory Cooper after 36 holes last year. The final round was played in foursomes with a shotgun start, and Weinhart was the only member of the final group with any experience of contending in the event.
Cooper ran into some problems off the tee and made a quadruple bogey and a triple on the opening nine, while Weinhart, Peter Jones and Kevin Gibbs all closed with scores of 73. Weinhart won with a 5-under 211 total, one shot ahead of Jones, the head pro at Cherokee Town & CC, and the fast-finishing duo of Brian Dixon and John Wade.
Dixon, an instructor at Fox Creek, shot 3-under on the back nine to finish at 212, with Wade making a late move with birdies on the four of his final seven holes for a 67, the low round of the day. Wade was the head pro at Sea Island GC at the time, and has since taken a job out of state.
Marietta CC Director of Golf Stephen Keppler, who has won the championship four times, birdied the 17th hole to pull into a tie for the lead with Weinhart, but finished fifth at 213 when he bogeyed the 18th hole. Weinhart also birdied the par-5 17th to break a three-way tie.
Jones reached the 17th in two, but three-putted for par, and had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie at the 18th, but missed from around five feet after an excellent approach.
Gibbs, the head pro at Oak Mountain in Carrollton, trailed Weinhart by six shots early in the final round, but pulled even with five birdies in a 9-hole stretch before a triple bogey at the par-3 16th dropped him to a tie for sixth at 214.
Along with Weinhart and Keppler, several of the Georgia PGA Section’s top players have long records of success in the championship.
Keppler, who scored the last of his four victories in 2011, had a streak of 10 years from 2005 to 2014 when he finished in the top three every year. He has placed fifth or sixth each of the last three years and scored his first three wins in the 1990s.
James Mason, who plays out of the Orchard, won three times between 1997 and 2000 before joining the Champions Tour, and captured his fourth title in 2015. He has placed third and sixth the last two years.
Craig Stevens, an instructor at Woodmont, has three Section Championship victories, including 2010 and ’13 at Retreat, and had a run of 17 top 10s in 18 years that ended in 2015.
Sonny Skinner of Spring Hill in Tifton first became eligible for the tournament in 2006 and placed third that year. After missing the tournament in 2007 due to injury, he has finished in the top 10 every year since, winning in 2009 at Retreat and in 2012, with a close runner-up finish to Weinhart two years ago.
The only player other than those five to win the tournament since 2009 is Hank Smith of Frederica GC, who won by a whopping 10 shots in 2014 over six players, among them Stevens, Weinhart, Keppler and Mason. Wade also tied for second that year along with Dunwoody CC head pro Kyle Owen, who has yet to win the tournament but has placed in the top 10 six times the past seven years.
Owens tied Mason and Gibbs for sixth last year and went on to win Player of the Year honors for the first time.
Paul Claxton, a veteran former tour pro like Skinner and Mason, placed fourth in the tournament in 2016, the first time he was eligible to compete. He did not play last year and had yet to commit as of August 17, with much of his tournament play coming in qualifiers fir the Champions Tour, which is playing in Canada the week of the Section Championship. Claxton, who teaches at Brunswick CC, has won three Georgia PGA tournaments over the past year – the Georgia Open and PGA PNC qualifier in 2017 and the inaugural Georgia PGA event at Chattahoochee GC earlier this year.
With the PGA PNC qualifier the only points event remaining on the 2018 schedule other than the Match Play Championship, which has reached the quarterfinal round, the Section Championship will have a large bearing on who comes away with Player of the Year honors.
Dixon is the current leader ahead of Jones, who is still alive in the Math Play bracket along with Skinner, who is fourth in the standings behind Claxton. Mason and Owen are fifth and sixth, followed by Capital City Club assistant J.P. Griffin, who tied for ninth with Skinner last year in his first year of eligibility in the Section Championship.
Stevens, eighth on the points list, is still in the Match Play along with Jones and Skinner. Stevens is a four-time Player of the Year and Skinner has earned that honor twice, most recently in 2014 after back-to-back titles by Stevens in 2012 and ’13.