PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Gene Fieger played golf’s answer to the roadrunner Friday afternoon at PGA Golf Club, and nobody could chase him down. The PGA director of golf at the Hideout Golf Club in Naples, Fla., lapped the field on the Wanamaker Course with a 3-under-par 69 to cruise to victory in the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz USA.
Fieger finished with a 72-hole total of 13-under-par 275 for a six-stroke victory, to become the fifth South Florida PGA Section member to capture the Leo Fraser Trophy. He earned a check of $20,000 in the $285,000 Championship, and didn’t let a closing bogey spoil the celebration.
“I’ve always said it would be nice to come up the 18th hole with a six- or seven-shot lead,” said Fieger. “Then when you have one, you still feel tentative. I hit it over the green at 18, not wanting to go into the water. I had a bad lie near a drain behind the green and ended up hitting a poor chip and made a bogey.”
Don Berry of Rogers, Minn., who rallied with birdies on five of his last eight holes for a 70, was runner-up at 281. He joined Fieger as the only players to post four sub-par rounds.
“It looks like I won the B Tournament,” said Berry, the PGA head professional at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., (69), Steve Parker of Houston, Texas (73) and Frank Esposito Jr. of Monroe Township, N.J. (73) shared third at 283.
Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, the 1995 PGA Professional National Champion who was making his Championship debut, finished in a tie for 10th after a 67, the low round of the day.
The low 35 finishers earned a trip to the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, May 22-25, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.
The Championship was postponed since last October due to a week of heavy rain in northern Virginia, but went smoothly at PGA Golf Club for 264 entrants despite facing a four-day gauntlet of shifting wind.
Fieger’s work week featured 16 birdies, an eagle and five bogeys, which made it appear that he was playing a different course than his opponents.
“I don’t play too many four-round tournaments, but this was a thrill,” said Fieger, whose best previous Championship performance was a tie for 15th in 2010. “I broke 70 all four rounds. In this wind, that’s really an accomplishment. I felt at home all four days, and I’ve played here a lot. You get the lead and you just try to get the ball in the fairway and on the green. That’s what I tried to do most of the day. Except for a little stumble in the middle, I hit some great chip shots. It was thrilling.”
Fieger said that he slept well on a four-stroke lead after Thursday’s third round, and began Friday by making birdies at Nos. 2, 6 and 7. He missed the green at 14 and failed to get up and down for par. He arrived at the 495-yard, par-5 16th, where he hit a mammoth drive, and knocked a 9-iron approach from 180 yards to the green. He then made a 25-foot downhill eagle putt.
“Yeah, I hit a 9-iron to that green! It was that kind of wind,” said Fieger. “I was just trying to get my putt close and it never left the line and went right in. It was a bonus.”
Fieger will be making his second appearance in the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, having tied for 68th in 2011 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
Berry, who has two top-5 performances in the PGA Professional National Championship, found his putting stroke on the back nine Friday.
“I played well this week and actually made some putts on the back nine today,” he said. “I didn’t really putt well all week until then. I can’t wait to go back to the Senior PGA Championship. I made the cut last year [tied for 35th at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis] and had four good rounds. I’m looking forward to going back and giving it another shot.”