By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Becoming a "senior" traditionally means slowing down a bit, perhaps slowing down quite a bit; a little more 'smell the roses' and a little less 'daily grind.' Hopefully, it means a chance to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor, hopefully play a little more golf.
But what if golf is your labor, and playing a little more means playing in the senior circuit's most prestigious major championship?
"It's a lot of things, but it's not relaxing," laughs Craig Stevens, a PGA Teaching Professional at Brookstone Golf and Country Club in Acworth, Ga. "It is invigorating. I am at a fresh new level in my life. But I wouldn't call it relaxing. I'm working harder at every level of golf than I ever have."
Stevens, who recently turned 50 and will be competing in his first Senior PGA Championship, says he has been eyeing this opportunity for a long time.
"At the end of my 'regular' career, I had a couple of years of being down on my game," he explained. "But when I saw 50 on the horizon, I realized I had a 'new golf life.' I refocused and rededicated my efforts and the payoff has been tremendous. I'm really excited."
Stevens, like many of the PGA Club Professionals, is no stranger to the spotlight. Many have spent time on various tours, even competing in majors such as the PGA Championship (Stevens has played in three PGA Championships, including last year at Atlanta Athletic Club.) But that doesn't mean they don't still see the names and venues and get excited.
"I'm just a few years younger than Fred Couples," said Stevens. I've always watched him, admired him, he's always been an idol of mine. Now I'm teeing it up with him, competing against him in the most prestigious event in senior golf. How great is that?"
Stevens is one of 40 PGA Club Professionals who have earned the right to compete in this week's 73rd Senior PGA Championship. The club professionals earn a spot by finishing in the top 35 at the Senior PGA Professional National Championship and by special invitation from The PGA of America.
Butch Sheehan, a PGA Club Professional with The First Tee at Coachella Valley in California, will be competing in his fifth Senior PGA Championship, not only calls it a privilege to compete in such a prestigious event, but also a unique opportunity to revisit with friends from around the country that he has worked alongside, competed against and met while having a decorated golf career at the club level and on the Champions Tour.
"There is a social element," Sheehan explained. "It's great to see the guys, play some good golf and maybe grab a drink after."
David Thore, a PGA Life Member from Reidsville, N.C., will be playing in his third Senior PGA Championship.
"I know what to expect, (from the tournament)," Thore noted while taking a break from the practice green. "It's not easy -- it's more difficult than most senior players are accustomed to. But no one has really played here much so none of us know what to expect from the course.
"It's a great opportunity for us," Thore said about golf's oldest and most prestigious major championship. "The advances in equipment really allow for us to enjoy this game longer and longer. And then to be able to play here, with these great players, it's amazing."
But make no mistake, as honored and appreciative as all the PGA Club Professionals are to enter and represent themselves, their clubs and their association, they are not content with simply taking part. In fact, their goals are no different than that of higher-profile players such as Couples or Tom Lehman.
"Without a doubt, I expect to be competitive," declared Sonny Skinner, the PGA Teaching Professional at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga. "I went to Champions Tour Q-School this past year and shot 13 under (tied for sixth and earned conditionally exempt status). If I play the best I can play, I absolutely expect to be up there. The goal is to win. We all start out even. Why not take advantage of this opportunity and play your best?"