ALDIE, Va. – For the third consecutive year, Creighton Farms in Aldie, Va., and River Creek Club in Leesburg, Va, will host the Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz USA. The 25th edition of the national championship for 264 PGA Professionals who are at least 50 years of age is a 72-hole event opening Thursday and concluding Sunday.
The field features PGA Professionals who have qualified through one of the 41 PGA Sections. The low 70 scorers and ties after Friday's second round advance to the weekend's final 36 holes at Creighton Farms.
The low 35 finishers will qualify for the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.
The top eight finishers, including ties, will receive exemptions into the 2014 Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
Finally, the top five finishers will be exempt into the Champions Tour National Finals at TPC Scottsdale (Ariz.).
PAIR OF ACES: Unfortunately for Craig Thomas, the rare feat he pulled off at Creighton Farms Wednesday happened during a practice round. The PGA head professional at Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., aced both the 15th and 17th holes, a day before the opening round of the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship. Thomas, who turned 50 in August, is making his debut in the Championship.
The practice round “magic” isn’t unusual for Thomas, whose last hole-in-one came on the 17th hole at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., during a practice round for the 2004 PGA Championship.
“I’m a practice-round guy when it comes to holes-in-one,” said Thomas, who now counts nine aces in his career, but only two coming during competition. “I have had two in a year, but definitely haven’t had two in one round.”
Thomas used a 7-iron on the 169-yard, par-3 15th, and holed out a 5-iron on the 205-yard, par-3 17th hole.
Another unfortunate part of Thomas’ landmark day is his vision is deteriorating. He wasn’t able to see either ball go in the hole Wednesday.
“My eyes are going, so I tell my playing partners that I haven’t seen a ball even land in a year,” said Thomas. “Brett Upper (1990 PGA Professional National Champion) told me the ball bounced once and went in on 15. And on 17, (playing partner) Mark Mielke (who shared Low PGA Club Professional honors in the 2013 Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid) said that 17 is an easy par-3. He said, ‘You hit it left and the ball will go down to the hole, or hit it right, and it works about the same way.’
“Mark said that I hit it 15 feet short and left and the ball trickled toward the hole. I thought there’s no way this could happen again. But it did.”
HOW DO YOU SPELL RELIEF?: PGA teaching professional Kirk Nelson of Kihei, Hawaii, found the best way to spell relief is “A-C-E” during a practice round Tuesday at Creighton Farms, host site of the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
Nelson, 53, suffering from a severe blister to his right heel, which he received last weekend playing in Los Angeles, took off his golf shoe after three holes on the challenging Jack Nicklaus-designed course. Nelson slipped on a flip-flop sandal, keeping a regular golf shoe on his left foot.
As he and his playing partners reached the 195-yard, par-3 ninth hole, Nelson used a 3-iron into the wind to the elevated green. The ball disappeared over a ridge in the green. Upon reaching the green, Nelson got confirmation that his ball had found the bottom of hole for his 10th career ace – none coming in competition.
“I am used to playing in sandals or barefoot on casual rounds with members,” said Nelson, who will make his second appearance in the Championship. “I could use that shot later in the week.”
Nelson’s playing partners were PGA teaching professional Brad Bowen of Kapalua Golf Academy in Lahaina, Hawaii; Andrew Feldmann, PGA head professional of Oahu Golf Club in Honolulu; and Robert Dacey, PGA head professional at Tierra del Sol Golf Course in California City, Calif.
“That was just a classic moment,” said Bowen, who confirmed that Nelson bought a round of drinks in the clubhouse.
PGA Rules officials confirmed that Bowen, if he wants, can play in sandals this week in the Championship.
BUILDING ON EXPERIENCE: It was 36 holes of pure bliss for Rob Horak in August, as he strolled the fairways of Oak Hill Country Club as a “marker” for PGA Tour Professionals Matt Jones and Gary Woodland over the final two rounds of the 95th PGA Championship.
Horak, a PGA teaching professional at Ravenwood Golf Club in Victor, N.Y., served as the liaison for the Western New York PGA Section, which had more than 100 of its Professionals volunteering at Oak Hill. A five-time Section Champion, Horak was more than willing to serve as “marker” when asked by the Section.
He hopes to build on that memorable experience that week beginning tomorrow at the 2013 Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
“Playing in front of 40,000 people at the PGA Championship was the most pressure I have ever felt in my life,” said Horak. “When you come to an event like this, where there aren’t as many people, you feel more at ease and I hope that helps me play better.”
Horak qualified for his third consecutive Senior PGA Professional National Championship by finishing third at the Western New York Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“I am really looking forward to playing in this Championship again,” said Horak. “You have to be precise and be at the top of your game to play well.”
And no matter what happens this week, Horak, who had always dreamed of playing in a major championship but until this summer never had the chance, feels he accomplished a lifelong goal.
“I have tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship and as I have gotten older, I got a little down on myself,” he said. “To get this chance was truly a dream come true.”
HOST SITES READY TO GO: Creighton Farms, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Design that opened in 2008, is a par-72, 7,410-yard layout.
In 2009, Golfweek selected Creighton Farms among its "Best New Private Golf Courses." Creighton Farms reflects the Nicklaus trademark of a challenging design, focusing on course management strategy and precision rather than power.
River Creek Club is a challenging, 7,036-yard, par-72 layout, was designed by Ault, Clark & Associates, with Tom Clark of Marshall, Va., as the lead architect. River Creek Club made its debut in 1997 as one of three golf courses nestled on the Potomac River, and bears challenging, large undulating greens as its signature and most prominent set of challenges.