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After his thrilling playoff victory Sunday, Ron Philo Jr. proudly displays the Walter Hagen Cup. (Photo: PGA of America)
After his thrilling playoff victory Sunday, Ron Philo Jr. proudly displays the Walter Hagen Cup. (Photo: PGA of America)

Beautiful Bogey

Ron Philo Jr. made bogey on the third playoff hole Sunday at Atunyote Golf Club to defeat Alan Schulte and win the 39th PGA Professional National Championship. Schulte made double-bogey after finding the right hazard off the tee.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

VERONA, N.Y. -- It's not often that Ron Philo Jr. is happy about making a bogey. But he'll take this one any day.

Philo bogeyed the third hole of a sudden-death playoff Sunday at Atunyote Golf Club, but it was still enough to defeat Alan Schulte and win the 39th PGA Professional National Championship.

"I was in a playoff here two years ago in our Regional Championship [2004 Eastern Regional] and I was not successful, so I was pretty thrilled to just get off the 18th hole the first time because I didn't get beat on the first hole," said the 40-year-old champ. "I'm excited and I'm worn out and ready to sit down and have something to drink."

Both players parred the par-5 18th and the par-4 10th before heading to the 11th, a 210-yard par 3. While Philo was making his bogey after hitting his tee shot into the left rough, Schulte faltered with a double-bogey after finding the right lateral hazard with his tee shot, forcing him to take an untimely one-stroke penalty to get relief.

"In regulation I hit 6-iron and it came up in the bunker," Schulte said. "It's almost the right length. It didn't really feel like the wind was helping that much. I tried to cut a little 5-iron and I really just didn't hit it hard enough. If I had gone ahead and trusted it and hit it and made the swing for a cut, it probably would have turned out just fine. All you're trying to do is get it front left right there. That's a brutal hole location and it just didn't work out."

Did Schulte know it was a bad shot right away?

"I got the sinking feeling as soon as I made contact," he said. "I knew where it was going. All in all, I'm pretty happy with the week. It's never easy to take what I guess you consider a loss. Heck, coming into the week all I really wanted to do was play well enough to make Medinah and it was kind of a bonus to have a chance to win."

Lee Rinker from Jupiter, Fla., finished in third place at 8-under 280. Defending champion Mike Small, the head golf coach at the University of Illinois, took fourth place at 7-under 281, while Chris Starkjohann of Goodyear, Ariz., finished in fifth at 6-under 282.

The victory, Philo's first in the National Championship, was worth $75,000 from the $550,000 total purse. Schulte goes home with $48,000. Philo also earned the prestigious Walter Hagen Cup, named after the legend who was one of the original 35 founders of the PGA of America.

"I thought that if I shot 67 and got double-digits under par, I could win," said Philo, who wound up shooting a 4-under 68. "If I had [shot 67], I would have avoided the playoff. That was kind of my target, although I wasn't really trying to pick a target score. I was just trying to keep getting birdies."

Schulte, who either led or was tied for the lead after the first three rounds, and Philo finished the regulation 72 holes tied for the lead at 10-under 278. Schulte, the head professional at The Hawthorns in Fishers, Ind., shot a final-round 71. He had the lead to himself with two holes to play, but bogeyed the 467-yard, par-4 17th. Earlier, Philo had the lead to himself on the 16th tee, but went bogey-bogey-par to finish at 10-under.

Philo has now posted four straight top-five finishes in the PGA Professional National Championship. But this one was definitely the best.

Earlier Sunday afternoon, with threatening skies hovering above, one sweet swing put Philo in prime position for his first title in the premier event for PGA club professionals.

The head professional at the Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., and brother of LPGA star Laura Diaz, Philo began the day at 6-under, trailing 54-hole co-leaders Schulte and Small by three shots. That quickly changed just three holes into his final round.

Philo picked up a birdie at the second hole, then followed it up with a stunning hole-in-one at the 199-yard par-3 third hole with a 4-iron. Philo's third career hole-in-one temporarily gave him a share of the lead at 9-under.

Philo's ace was the fourth of the tournament. On Thursday, Louis Bartoletti of Wellington, Fla., holed a 5-iron at the 185-yard sixth hole at Atunyote for his third career hole-in-one. On Friday, David McNabb of Newark, Del., and John Traub of Rochester Hills, Mich., also each recorded holes-in-one. Traub holed out on the par-3 ninth hole (his final of the day) at Shenendoah Golf Club to make the cut by two strokes, while McNabb aced the par-3 sixth hole at Atunyote and bogeyed the final three holes to miss the cut by one stroke.

"The hole-in-one was pretty neat," Philo said. "That was my third in competition and it was the longest one I've had. It's great -- it's where I was aiming. I was feeling pretty good about the fact that it went in. It's a very, very tough hole to get close to. It was early, so we still had a lot of golf to play and I was just trying to stay focused on playing more holes without getting too excited about that."

Diaz had just finished playing in the Wegmans Rochester LPGA earlier in the day in Pittsford, N.Y., where she tied for 17th, and made the nearly two-hour drive to Verona just in time to watch her older brother make par at the 72nd hole for a potential playoff -- Schulte still had to finish the last.

"I heard about the hole-in-one," Diaz said. "I called my mom on the way over here and asked, 'How's he doing? How's he doing'? At the time he had a two-shot lead. She told me he had a hole-in-one this morning and I said, 'No way! ' That was really exciting and then when we got here I watched him putt out on 18 [in regulation], gave him a hug and he said, 'Hey, I had a hole-in-one!' and I said, 'Yeah, how about that!'"

Diaz caddied for her brother in the PGA Championship at Baltusrol last year -- she was pregnant at the time -- and the team made the cut finishing in a tie for 66th. Will she be on the bag at Medinah?

"That's the plan right now," she said. "Unless I get fired."

She shouldn't worry too much about that.

The top 20 finishers at the National Championship received a spot in the 88th PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club in August. They are:

Schulte; Rinker; Small; Starkjohann.; Craig Thomas, Oceanside, N.Y.; Kelly Mitchum, Southern Pines, N.C.; Jeff Cranford, La Quinta, Calif.; Jeff Coston, Blaine, Wash.; Donald Yrene, Scottsdale, Ariz.; John Aber, Pittsburgh, Pa.; Jim Kane, Lawrence, Kan.; Barry Evans, Charleston, W.Va.; Chris Wiemers, Omaha, Neb.; Jerry Haas, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Steve Schneiter, Sandy, Utah; Chip Sullivan, Troutville, Va.; Greg Bisconti, South Salem, N.Y.; Mark Brown, Oyster Bay, N.Y.; and Tim Weinhart, Buford, Ga.

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