Of the 26 PGA club professionals competing this week in the 34th U.S. Senior Open, Craig Stevens registered one of the most dramatic turnarounds that he can recall in his career. It was just enough to earn him a trip this week to Omaha, Neb.
Stevens, a 52-year-old PGA teaching professional at Brookstone Golf & Country Club in Acworth, Ga., saw his chances fade early June 17, in a USGA Sectional Qualifying Tournament at The Standard Club in Johns Creek, Ga. Stevens opened his round 2-over-par through three holes.
“I decided not to let it get to me and to just play golf,” said Stevens. “I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself. That wouldn’t do me any good.”
Stevens recovered by finishing 6-under-par from there, collecting birdies at 6, 7, 9 and 11. He spiced that sizzling streak with a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth hole, his first in competition and the fifth ace of his career. He used a 9-iron from 142 yards.
“We saw the ball go in,” said Stevens. “It hit about 1½ feet short and right and then rolled in like a putt. That was a great way to keep my spirits up.”
Stevens earned his first U.S. Senior Open trip with a 4-under-par 68, sharing medalist honors with amateur Jeff Belk of Marietta, Ga. They will be part of a 156-member field that begins play Thursday on the 6,711-yard, par-70 Omaha Country Club.
Stevens, a resident of Dallas, Ga., won the Georgia Senior State Open in May and missed the cut last month in the 46th PGA Professional National Championship in Sunriver, Ore. He is a veteran of three PGA Championships and one Senior PGA Championship.
“You know I am playing pretty good golf now, and it took just 52 years for me to grow up,” joked Stevens. “I played a practice round today with Robin Byrd (of Satellite Beach, Fla.). Would you believe it, he had a hole-in-one in his Sectional in (Mascoutin Golf Club in Berlin, Wis.), which allowed him to get in. He got his on the 17th hole. Pretty amazing that we both would be talking about the same thing here!”
Stevens is among a talented PGA club professional delegation, featuring PGA Professional National Champions Jeffrey Roth of Farmington, N.M. (1993) and Bruce Zabriski of Jupiter, Fla. (1997). Mark Mielke of East Norwich, N.Y., makes his debut in the Senior Open, and shared low PGA club professional honors in May at the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
Of the 26 PGA club professionals entered this week, Roy Vucinich of Moon Township, Pa., has enjoyed the best major finish among the delegation. Now a 66-year-old PGA Life Member, Vucinich tied for fourth in the 2002 Senior PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
The senior PGA club professionals competing this week in the 34th U.S. Senior Open:
David Carich, Noblesville, Ind.
Kevin Coombs, Camas, Wash.;
Mark Costaregni, Miami Beach, Fla.
Dennis Dolci, Sharon, Pa.
George Forster Sr., Villanova, Pa.
Steve Gotsche, Great Bend, Kan.
Kevin Hayashi, Hilo, Hawaii
Lee Houtteman, Glen Arbor, Mich.
Bill Israelson, Staples, Minn.
Bill Loeffler, Castle Rock, Colo.
Nelson Long Jr., Bedford, N.Y.
Ken McDonald, Houston, Texas
Mark Mielke, East Norwich, N.Y.
Bruce Nakamura, Vista, Calif.
Kirk Nelson, Kihei, Hawaii
Doug Rohrbaugh, Carbondale, Colo.
Jeffrey Roth, Farmington, N.M.
Mike San Filippo, Hobe Sound, Fla.
Troy Schleicher, The Woodlands, Texas
Jim Sobb, Barrington, Ill.
Craig Stevens, Dallas, Ga.
Bruce Stewart, Molalla, Ore.
Roy Vucinich, Moon Township, Mich.
Steve Wells, Niles, Mich.
Jeff Whitfield, Weldon Spring, Mo.
Bruce Zabriski, Jupiter, Fla.