An Interview with: SONNY SKINNER
KELLY ELBIN: In with a 4 under par 67 in the opening round of the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, Sonny Skinner, PGA club professional of Georgia. Sonny, great playing today. You finished strong with three birdies on your second nine, a great chip in there for par, hit every fairway, 14 of 14 fairways. Sound like it was a pretty special start here at Bellerive.
SONNY SKINNER: Well, I tell you, having to start number 10 into the fan like that and it being cool this morning, was very difficult. I hit a good drive and a 3 wood to the green.
So it was special though. Just to be here is very special. I'm very thankful to the PGA of America has the eligibility requirement that they do that allows as many club pros to get into our tournament as they do.
KELLY ELBIN: You had a number of birdies and a few bogeys. Would you mind going through the card starting with the bogey on number 11, please.
SONNY SKINNER: Well the bogey on number 11 came after a real nice utility club right down the middle and the pin was cut very tight on the right corner and the wind into my face. I played a little conservative and left myself a 60 footer. And proceeded to 3 putt. But I still felt good.
I kept trying to hit good shots and made some nice pars where I hit the fairways, knocked them up there on the green.
I did make a wonderful par save on 13. I hit it over by the left bunker with not much room to work with and got it up there inside of 10 feet and made it.
Then on 14, played a little too aggressively there and hit it into the back bunker with a down wind and had no chance to get it well I should have, I probably had a chance, but I hit it out about 15 feet and made that putt for a par.
And then turned right around on the next hole and hit it about four feet. So I started feeling pretty good and felt like I could hit some shots and make some putts.
KELLY ELBIN: Then you had bogey on 16.
SONNY SKINNER: 16, yeah. I thought I hit a decent shot, but it's such a long hole and not quite sure how much the wind was going to help me there. With it cool, a lot of times the ball still won't fly for you, even though you are downwind. I had a very makeable par putt there from about four feet, but I didn't make it. Four or five feet. But I hit it where I was looking. So that's all I can do.
Then I played good on 17. Actually I didn't hit a good second shot on 17. Hit a real big drive though. It went 300 or so, which is big for me. And I had a real hard bunker shot but I hit it nicely up to within about 15 feet. I was 50, 60 yards away.
And then 18 I played good. I was real pleased with that. I hit a nice drive and a nice 7 iron inside of 12, 15 feet and made it.
So I was feeling pretty good and then I started trying to pat myself on the back there as I was walking over to No. 1. But I kept telling myself, don't get ahead of yourself. That was my main goal coming in here this week was to just try to play each shot with the same amount of intention. And so I stood up there on 1, hit it down the fairway and I hit a pretty decent shot into the green and made a nice 20, 25 footer. Then I started getting distracted a little bit. That's the hard part, I think, for any of us that play the game is not letting our mind wander.
And I didn't hit a very good shot on No. 2 off the tee. But I hit an extremely good second shot and 2 putted for par.
And then hit a real good shot on number 3. And an 8 iron to within about nine feet and made it.
Number 4, I hit a really good drive and a good utility club 220 something yards up there within makeable range, probably only a 20 footer, but I left it a little short.
I thought the greens were in excellent shape though today. Their pace was picking up a little better than it did after that torrential rain that we had early in the week.
Went to number 5, hit a beautiful drive down the middle, hit a nice solid iron shot up there, had a makeable putt, but I didn't quite do it from 20 feet or so.
Then on 6 is probably the hardest hole on the course. One of them for sure. And I hit it into a plugged lie in the left hand bunker trying to go right and I can't go at the flag I was just trying to get it out of the bunkers hopefully without shanking it. I hit it, but I didn't hit a great shot.
And you're not going to hit too many good shots from that position, but it ran all the way across the green, but I chipped it in. So that helped out quite a bit. I just trying to make a four and it rolled in the hole for a three.
Then I get distracted a little again on the next hole and I didn't make a good swing off the tee, I popped it up, but it was still in play and I could hit a 6 iron to the green which normally it would probably be a 3 iron and an 8 iron. I mean, 3 wood and an 8 iron. But I made a nice par there and really pleased with that.
A big drive on number 8. I didn't hit that good of a second shot, hit it a little thin trying to run it up I knew I couldn't fly it up, but I thought I might could scoot it up, but it wound up in a green side bunker. Hit a nice bunker shot out, but I missed a 10 footer. I played a little too much break.
Then on No. 9, I hit another good drive down the middle, which is a tough driving hole, and I judged the distance well going up the slope and left myself in the bowl and had another makeable putt, but it looked really quick to me and so I just lagged it. I lagged it down to within a foot and made a par.
KELLY ELBIN: How far was that chip shot you made on 6, please, roughly?
SONNY SKINNER: Roughly it was 30, it was another, it was probably a 40 yard pitch shot.
KELLY ELBIN: Open it up for questions.
Q. How much was the wind a factor today? I wonder if I could characterize it that way. And also, this is an old, it's been redesigned a little bit, but it's an old Trent Jones golf course. Is it a golf course that feels comfortable to you that sets up well for you?
SONNY SKINNER: First part, the wind was definitely a factor. It was very fresh this morning and cool. It did seem to come out of the same direction though all day. But any time you have this many trees, it starts bouncing over the trees it's like smoke, whenever you blow smoke it bounces off and goes in another direction. So that's the tricky part.
The second part I already forgot.
Q. Just the golf course in general.
SONNY SKINNER: The golf course in general is gorgeous. That was the first thing I noticed when I drove in here. The first thing I noticed on their web site when I looked at all the holes and I was like, man, I love a golf course with trees. And it's so green. And there's rough. It's beautiful. It's beautiful. Where I come from in south Georgia there's not too many golf courses this nice.
Q. Does it setup well for you?
SONNY SKINNER: I think it can, yeah, I do. I do think it does. It's not tremendously long. I do, I did see some tee boxes back there that we could go to that might change the situation.
But it's a golf course that rewards you for hitting it in the fairway. That's always been part of my game that I've relied on from round to round is being able to put it in play.
So I really like the way the golf course looks.
Q. What did you hit off the tee at 6 and were you aiming for the left part of that green even though the flag was all the way over to the right? I think you said you did not try for that flag stick.
SONNY SKINNER: I did not try for the flag stick. I hit a 4 iron, the wind was really gusting into us and it was raining. And then and I wear glasses and my glasses were getting misty, real a haze on them from the rain because it was really gusting hard. And I was first to hit.
So I wanted to just stand there and wait, but I said, you know what, I'm going play for par. I hit a 4 iron, but didn't quite hit it as square as I needed to and sharply as I needed to. But I was definitely not trying to fly it at the flag stick. I would have had to hit a utility club and still wasn't sure that might be enough. As hard as the wind was blowing.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your expectations coming into the week, how you've been playing and what your goals were and are you adjusting those goals now after a strong opening round?
SONNY SKINNER: I'm not going to adjust my goals because I did have a good day today. So I'm going to stick with my goals. They served me well today. My main goal coming into this tournament was to just try to stay into each shot and each moment and a lot of times when you're on the outside looking into a big stage like the TOUR and the Champions Tour it's real easy to get excited and your eyes wandering all over the place at how wonderful it is. You lose sight of the fact that, hey, I got to play golf.
And I didn't come in here playing very well. In fact, I was I didn't play for seven straight days. That was on purpose. Because my game felt sour and flat and my mind was a little unconfident. And a lot of times if you'll just step back from the game a touch and just try to ease up on yourself some, you'll take a different awareness to the game and a little different approach.
So when I drove in the gates here and I did drive here, I drove all the way from home in Georgia, but I loved the way that it looked so I started getting a little pepped up, like, all right, I'm fresh. Let's start practicing, let's get to know the course. And I got a fresh mind, something better could happen, and it did happen today.
Q. You've made a few references to staying in the moment, not getting ahead of yourself and things like that. Is that something that you've kind of battled or for lack of a better term, throughout your career and if so, why is that?
SONNY SKINNER: I definitely know that that's been an issue with me. I think it is for all, everybody that plays golf that and can break par. You push yourself real hard and you tend to get on yourself tremendously hard. You don't need anybody else to get on you. We get on ourselves enough and to a fault.
So as I've gotten older I've tried, I've noticed that I need to be a little easier with myself. As I started keeping golf more people and I have been doing a lot of teaching in the last eight years, I started with the attitude that why don't I treat myself the same way I treat these students that aren't hitting the best shots. I'm very calm and kind and encouraging to them, why don't I treat myself that way.
So maybe it took me until I was 47 years old to start thinking about that, but it was always an issue for me when I was younger. A little too much temper and I get excited a little too much when things go good. So whenever I can keep an even keel, I do better. Why that is I have that temper, I don't know.
Q. I heard what you said about being kind to yourself, but could you walk me through what happened from the time you hit into the bunker on 6 you go over the green, they had it on TV here, and then you knock it in the hole. That's got to be a 180 in about a minute there. What's going on there for you?
SONNY SKINNER: Well, from the tee I could tell that I was 90 percent sure it had buried and where it buried, I knew par might be a good score. So I started trying to just settle myself down as I walked up and I was hopeful that it had rolled out of that lie, but it didn't.
So I knew immediately bogey would be good. And I just took the avenue that I thought the shot would allow me to hit. I was only trying to hit it out of the bunker about 10 yards. And maybe it might roll to the right a little bit. But it came out really hot. And when I did examine my ball after I finished the hole, there was a cut mark on it. So I think what happened is I was hitting the shot I got too much ball as I was driving down into the sand and I bladed it.
But it's awfully hard to hit that blade shot. I don't know what angle you had with TV when they showed that bunker shot, but my feet were easily three feet above the ball, I was squatting down, I was hunched over, easily could have shanked that shot. Definitely not a shot you practice very much. I was just trying to chunk and run it out of the bunker. But it ran across the green.
I did have in my yardage book that that side of the green was okay. You can get the ball up and down from over there. And I, so I reminded myself, hey, you can still make a four. But I haven't been chipping that great for quite some time and when I saw the replay, I know why. I'm way too wristy. And so, but I happened to make good contact with that one and it hit the green relatively soft and it tracked right in the hole and you never can count on that happening, you can just try to visualize it happening and hope for the best.
Q. I wonder what you have in your past, what experiences you have that you draw on in an event like this when you're sort of a little bit out of your element, I would say.
SONNY SKINNER: Oh, yeah.
Q. Just what you've done in the past that helps you mentally when you're here.
SONNY SKINNER: Well, I've played a lot of golf in the past. I've pretty much played non stop since I was 15 years old. And I'm 52 now, I'll be 53 in a couple of months. I played non stop.
I never won anything real big, but I won tournaments that felt real big. I have won tournaments after taking six months off, not even knowing if I was going to play again and then go in and enter a mini tour event and I would win. And this one particular time I shot a 62 to win.
I've won two Nationwide evens, they're now web.com, back when I won them they were actually called the Nike TOUR or buy.com. Might have been buy.com. But those are always good positive things to draw on.
I've won a good number of events playing as a PGA professional in our section and at our national level in our winter series of tournaments and whatnot.
And it is still just golf. I did qualify for the PGA TOUR four times. I made it through the qualifying school. So just making it through one time leaves a pretty good thought pattern in your mind and I was able to do it four times.
So there are some good thoughts in there, but there's a lot of bad too. There's a lot of bad. And you always have to battle those demons, no matter what level you play at. But, I've always dreamed of playing golf in big events like this. I always hoped to. And I thoroughly am enjoying it, whether I continue to play well or not, I still in my mind I think I can.
KELLY ELBIN: You also were the low PGA club professional in this championship two years ago.
SONNY SKINNER: That's correct.
KELLY ELBIN: Can you draw anything from that in terms of being in this big stage and getting through four rounds and playing strong.
SONNY SKINNER: Yes, I can. I'll never forget, even though I didn't play tremendously well the whole week there, I still played relatively well. But to just be around Tom Watson there at the end as he won the tournament and David Eger played great, but Tom won and then in the press conference sitting there watching Tom, I remarked instantly to Bob Denney, I think it was, that, boy, I wish I could have experienced this earlier in my career. Mr. Watson is a, the utmost example of a champion and a gentleman and competitor. Being able to be around him in that moment was a real uplifting and inspiring and encouraging situation that I would like to finish better than I did that week.
Jay Haas, I saw his name up there, Jay Haas is awesome. I remember going on TOUR, when I was a rookie at 30 years old, and Jay was just steady as the day is long and he still is. Did I answer the question?
KELLY ELBIN: Yes, you did.
Q. Any particular reason why you drove?
SONNY SKINNER: Yeah, my daughter graduated from high school on Sunday and it was late. And to catch a flight out I have to drive three hours to even catch a plane. And then the time schedule and whatnot. And then I wasn't sure if I was going to turn around and come home after this event or I might go to the next Champion's event and try qualify. I was unsure. Because my game hadn't been very good. And I was I wanted it to change and maybe go.
So just being so unsure of my plans and getting such a late start to get here, because I wanted to be with my daughter, that's the reason that I drove. But it also gives you a lot of time to think and to sort out and to refocus and you listen to a lot of good music when you drive that 12 hours.
Q. My understanding is you caddied for Allen Doyle a couple of times?
SONNY SKINNER: I did.
Q. You talked about being kind to yourself. There are times Doyle wasn't too kind to himself. What was that like?
SONNY SKINNER: Mr. Doyle, Allen Doyle is, I've known him for a long time. As a playing partner, but to caddie for him, that was quite a treat, actually. And he still is, at his age right now and even though he was having health problems at the time, he still had that fire in his gut that he did back in the '70s.
And I'll never forget this one particular time Allen was beating himself up, like we do, but he was really getting on himself pretty hard. Nobody beats Allen Doyle, he beats himself up plenty hard. But I said, come on AD, you got so much to be thankful for, I said, come on, be a little easier on yourself. And he looked at me and he said, boy, I wish could I look through those rosy glasses that you got, he says, everything's so upbeat, he says, and I'm hacking it out here.
But anyway, I do try to look through rose colored glasses as much as I can. But I really enjoyed caddying for Allen and seeing the courses and seeing how tough it is to play on the Champions Tour and how good everybody is, because it certainly inspires you to go back and practice a little harder.
KELLY ELBIN: Speaking of being on the bag, you have, I believe, a member of the Gateway PGA section on your bag this week.
SONNY SKINNER: I do.
KELLY ELBIN: Is that someone you knew before or did you meet him here or how did that come about?
SONNY SKINNER: I met Craig through another friend of ours in Georgia and I was looking for a caddie and a place to stay and he says, you know what, I got a friend that lives up there and he's a PGA professional, I'm going to give him a call. And Craig didn't hesitate. And he and his family have taken me in and given me a place to stay and he's caddying for me and he's had a great disposition all week.
Even on the second hole, after I hit an 8 iron sixty feet from the hole I was like, man, I can't believe I didn't take that at the flag, why was I playing so conservative. He says, come on, lots of golf shots left, we got a lot more opportunities to take it at the flag.
So he's got a wonderful attitude and he's just another good example of what being a good quality PGA professional is.
Q. Craig who?
SONNY SKINNER: Bollman. B O L L M A N.
KELLY ELBIN: Sonny Skinner in with 67. Great going.
SONNY SKINNER: Thank you very much.
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