By Marino Parascenzo, Special to PGA.com
LIGONIER, Pa. -- Perry Arthur, the director of golf at Stonebridge Ranch Country Club in McKinney, Texas, made his debut in the Senior PGA Championship on Thursday, shot a 2-under-par 70 in the first round, and sounded distinctly like a man who has made his peace with the hostile game.
"I just didn't make any real bad mistakes and I really didn't do anything that exciting," said Arthur, explaining how it was that at age 50 and in his first Senior PGA, he managed to join the stars of the Champions Tour on the leaderboard. Arthur was among the best of the 35 club professionals in the field of 156. It is, after all, their championship, but the hard truth is that club pros are in a different world when it comes to playing against the tour pros.
Nobody was beating up on the 7,078-yard Laurel Valley layout, and Arthur put his share of dents in it. He started at the par-5 11th, a 605-yarder of which the final 170 yards or so are practically a 90-degree turn to the left and down the hill. Arthur turned the sharp corner with a 5-wood that left him only 80 yards to the green. A lob wedge to 10 feet and a putt gave him the first of his four birdies.
After a three-putt bogey from 65 feet at the 13th (his fourth hole), he birdied the par-4 16th with an 8-iron to 6 feet. "And I can make those putts most of the time," he cracked. He birdied No. 1 with a sand wedge to 12 feet, and No. 6 with another sand wedge, this to 6 feet after a two-putt bogey at No. 4.
It was, as he said, a round of nothing real bad and nothing real exciting -- unless one counts four smooth birdies on his first day in heavy traffic.
Other club pros had mixed days.
John Aubrey, from his own Aubrey's Dubbs Dread north of Pittsburgh, started out hot, then cooled, but was still pleased with his 2-over 74.
"This is my fourth major since I turned 50, and this is the hardest course of all," Aubrey said, ticking off previous visits to Valhalla, Firestone and Bellerive. "I had to hit fairway woods on four par-4s here, and I only hit one, at most, on those other courses."
Aubrey, starting at No. 1, went par-birdie-birdie, holing a 30-footer at No. 2 and a 12-footer at No. 3. He dropped a shot at the fourth and was 1-under through the turn before running into a fresh wind that helped cost him three bogeys in four holes. He got two shots back with a 10-foot birdie at the 175-yard 14th, and another at the 15th, where his 8-iron second flew into the cup and bounced out. He had one final wish. "I hope the wind blows and dries out the course," he said, grinning.
Don Reese, from Freeport, Fla., another guy making his Senior PGA debut, ran very hot to join the leaders at 3-under, then a little cold to close at 1-under 71. Starting at No. 10, he misclubbed himself to bogeys at the 11th and 13th, then raced through easily one of the hottest stretches of the day -- five birdies over the next seven holes. "Now, I was pretty excited," Reese said. They ranged from a 30-foot downhill putt at the 16th to a tap-in after a 9-iron at the par-5 18th.
Terry Florence, 56, the lanky head professional at Bulls Ball in Awendaw, S.C., who got into the field as an alternate, was brutally honest about his 2-over 74.
"When I step up and play at this level, I just can't play carefree," he said. So, while it hurt him it didn't surprise him when he put himself in the pits coming out of the gate, with a double bogey-6 at No. 10.
"The absolutely worst drive," he said, cringing at the thought of the thick rough. "I had an anxiety attack for an hour."
He righted himself with birdies at the par-3 14th, on a 12-foot putt, and the par-5 18th, where he pitched across the big pond to 4 feet. And there was another thing. At the 2004 Senior PGA at Valhalla, Florence missed a tee time in the confusion over the storm delays. He was disqualified for the first time in his life. Things broke right for him this time, and after a player withdrew, he got his chance.
"So getting in here," he said, "exorcised the ghost of Valhalla."