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Chris Starkjohann
Chris Starkjohann will head home with a crystal trophy and a nice, big check. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

Starkjohann caps his improbable week with top-5 finish

On Tuesday, PGA Professional Chris Starkjohann of California wasn’t even in the field. On Sunday, he wrapped up his four rounds with a tie for fifth place, the best finish among all the club pros.

John Kim, Turner Sports Coordinating Producer

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Tracy Starkjohann received the call late Tuesday from her husband: "I'm in."

Chris Starkjohann, a PGA Club Professional who is also making a run at the Champions Tour, had just received word that there had been another withdrawal at the 70th Senior PGA Championship. The seventh alternate would tee it up in the first round.

The fortunate break could not have come at a better time. Starkjohann suffered through a wrist injury in 2007 that made his 2008 a total wash. With a new foster daughter and an uncertain economy affecting his new tee-time business at home (Torrey Pines Gold Club and Outings), each dollar spent had to have a calculated return on investment for the couple.

After the good news phone call, Tracy managed to get on the red-eye flight (using miles borrowed from a relative), hopped through four different airports to get to Canterbury Golf Club by Wednesday afternoon, and walked/caddied 15 holes with Chris for a practice round and their only look at the golf course. They then retired to a friend's house where they would stay for the week, another way to save a few precious dollars.

On Sunday afternoon, after four sparkling rounds of golf for a 1-under 281 total, Starkjohann lifted a special crystal trophy as part of the awards ceremony on the 18th green identifying him as the low PGA Club Professional in the field. Starkjohann, who ended up tied for fifth place overall and earned $65,500, said that even with the financial pressures he and Tracy had been facing, the week had aura of peace about it.

"You know, I have probably -- it's been the most calmest week in the 30 years I've been playing," smiled Starkjohann. "There's no answer to that. It's unbelievable." 

Starkjohann, who had been noted for much of the week for his wild roller-coaster rides on the scoreboard, didn't let up as his final back-nine scorecard consisted of three pars, three birdies and three bogeys. In fact, Starkjohann led the field in birdies for the week with 20; Tom Watson was second with 16. But Starkjohann's calm composure, which only cracked slightly after the round as he fought some emotion as he took in what his performance this week would mean for his current situation and future goals, never allowed him to get too high or too low no matter what was transpiring on the course.

"It means so much," said Tracy following the round. "This week will mean more good things for us."

And his many friends from around the country, who were following him on television and the Internet, wanted to encourage and congratulate him all week.

"Well, I've gotten a lot of, you know, phone calls from people from area codes that I don't even know," Starkjohann said. "I'm like, 'Who is this? I can't remember who that is.' So it's been awesome and just a good feeling."

Starkjohann, who had not shied away from sharing his faith, also made it a point to thank God and Jim Dent. "God first," he said, "but Jim Dent for withdrawing."

Nine other PGA Club Professionals also made the cut for weekend play, and each expressed a great appreciation and enthusiasm for their week at Canterbury.

Jon Fiedler, PGA Teaching Professional at Las Posas Country club in Camarillo, Calif., expressed that a great appreciation for his fourth Senior PGA Championship.

"It was fun to play in an event like this," he said after his final-round 76.  "The people are really nice around here."

Fiedler also wanted to keep his friends and students back in California in his thoughts.

"I think I got a little airtime on Thursday and Friday, so it was nice to be able to do that for my home club."

Robert Gibbons, the PGA Head Professional at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Ore., will long remember his Saturday round with Hale Irwin and Greg Norman, as well as the great satisfaction in making the cut in his first Senior PGA Championship.

"It was exciting," Gibbons said with a big smile. "Tension filled for four straight days. But it was good."

Behind Starkjohann, the other PGA Club Professionals who played all four rounds were: made the cut and their final overall standings: Bill Britton (tied for 33rd), James Blair (tied for 33rd), Jeff Roth (tied for 37th), Kirk Hanefeld (tied for 37th), Robert Gibbons (tied for 59th), Jim Woodward (74th), Jon Fiedler (75th), Jim White (76th) and Fred Gibson (77th).

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