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Lonnie Nielsen, a former PGA Professional at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora, N.Y., will have plenty of frinds and family following him around Oak Hill this week.(Photo: Getty Images)

New Yorkers in field 'thrilled' to be back home

By Lauren Deason, Editorial Coordinator

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The boys are back in town for the Senior PGA Championship.

Located in Pittsford, N.Y., a quaint town in the greater Rochester area, Oak Hill Country Club has hosted the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, Ryder Cup, the U.S. Senior Open and now the Senior PGA Championship.

No one is more familiar with golf in Western New York than Lonnie Nielsen. He gave up a career on the PGA TOUR in the early 1980s to serve as a PGA Professional at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora, N.Y., near Buffalo.

He won the Western New York PGA Match Play Championship 10 times -- including once at Oak Hill -- and was a nine-time winner at the Western New York PGA Section Championship. He claimed the title at the New York State Open twice as well.

With all of those wins, it's no surprise that Nielsen led the Western New York PGA Section money list 13 times. After all of that success as a club professional, however, Nielsen decided to join the Champions Tour when he turned 50 in 2003.

"I'd been at our club for about 20 years and it just started to feel like it was time for me to do something different," he explained. "I was starting to play pretty good at the time. I felt like my game was so much better than it was when I played on the PGA TOUR."

As it turns out, it was. Or at least he produced better results. Nielsen captured his first professional title at the Commerce Bank Championship in -- where else? -- New York last season.

The Oak Hill course has changed from how he remembers it -- several trees have grown up, including a few that sit right in his line of sight now -- but he's thrilled to face the challenging rough and tough conditions.

"I was so excited when I saw on the schedule that we were going to be coming back here. And it's a real thrill to be back home. I have a lot of friends and family who are going to be coming up," Nielsen said.

Nielsen is one of several players in the field with ties to the state. Other New Yorkers in the field include Mike Hulbert of Elmira, Wayne Levi of Little Falls, Joey Sindelar of Horseheads, Jeff Sluman of Rochester and Mark Balen of Lackwanna.

Being close to home can be both good and bad, however.

"We play in Iowa every year and I've never played well there," Nielsen, who grew up in Iowa before moving to New York at age 30, said. "So I hope that doesn't carry over here to Western New York.

"It's funny how just little things can throw you off. It's a little bit different routine. You're doing a lot more activities and hopefully I'll still be able to get my focus once I get inside the ropes."

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