By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- PGA Professional Bill Britton of Rumson, N.J., has performed to the highest level on some of the games biggest stages and most difficult courses, applying a deliberate and focused style of play.
As a former PGA Tour professional, Britton tied for seventh in the 1990 Masters and was fourth that year at the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek. Competing in his second Senior PGA Championship in 2008, Britton tied for 16th at Oak Hill Country Club.
Facing the challenges of a new and demanding layout, Harbor Shores, Britton called upon his experience and a bagful of patience to offset four bogeys with four birdies for an even-par 71 Friday. That was good enough to lead a contingent of 43 PGA club professionals who started play in the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
Britton, 56, the PGA director of instruction at Trump National Golf Club in Colts Neck, N.J., owns a 36-hole total of 2-over-par 144. With birdies on two of his final three holes, he became one of four PGA club professionals to make the 36-hole cut of 5-over-par 147 in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf. The field of 156 was trimmed to 71 players advancing to the weekend.
Britton will be joined for the final two rounds at Harbor Shores by a trio at 147 that includes Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash.; two-time Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga.; and Tom Atchison of Silver Lake, Ohio.
Skinner, last year’s Low PGA Club Professional at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., rallied from a first-round 77 by turning in a 1-under-par 70, sharing the best round among PGA club professionals Friday. Coston, who took the low scoring honors in 2007, and Atchison who missed the cut in his Senior PGA Championship debut last year, each closed with a 71.
Britton, who tied for 16th in the 2008 Senior PGA Championship, said that there are no tricks up his sleeves to handle the demanding Harbor Shores layout. The field benefited from moderate breezes in the second round, as the course yielded a 72.97 stroke average, nearly three strokes lower than a gusty first round.
“I don't think there was a secret today for me,” said Britton. “I just played well; I started off with pars, and I hit a bunch of good shots. I got through the 14th hole after hitting a bad 5-iron and making bogey and came back with a birdie at 15. They had the tees up there, and I got a lucky bounce and stayed on the fringe of the green making another birdie. It wasnt easy today, but it was much easier than yesterday.”
Atchison, 52, overcame a double-bogey 6 on the difficult, 436-yard seventh hole, finishing with birdies at 12 and 16.
“I feel great. My swing feels really good,” said Atchison. “I struck it well; I don't think I missed many greens today. I probably had birdie putts that I probably could have made, some 10-footers, but I don't think I've had a three-putt in two days and that's amazing on these greens.”
Atchison, like his fellow PGA club professionals in the field, made it a goal to play the weekend.
“It's exciting. It's been a goal of mine since playing last year at Valhalla,” said Atchison. “I qualified and missed the cut by three shots but played well there. We got caught in all the storms there and it took us a few days to play but, no, for my second try, I'm excited.”
Skinner made the biggest revival among the quartet to make the cut, recording a steady round featuring birdies at 3 and 16, to offset a bogey at the sixth. He hit 15 greens and took 31 putts.
“A lot easier conditions today than yesterday, obviously, from 25-mile-an-hour winds to maybe 10,” said Skinner. “And, it was blowing out of a totally different direction. But the greens were a lot more receptive. Yesterday afternoon they were brutally hard and firm, had lots of trash on them from the wind blowing all over. It was just really tough yesterday. I hit the ball nicer, and had more birdie putts. They just didn't go in.
“I'm not complaining and I'm tickled to death, and I think I'm going to have a chance to play some more golf.”