Senior PGA Championship: Thursday notebook
By The PGA of America
ST. LOUIS -- Sonny Skinner drove 12 hours from his home in Sylvester, Ga., to Bellerive Country Club, just outside St. Louis, a journey that he said allowed him time to “clear the mind” while preparing for the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
“You listen to a lot of good music, and it allows you to refocus when you drive those 12 hours,” said Skinner, who attended his daughter’s high school graduation last Sunday and passed on a late search for a flight. “My game wasn’t very good coming in here. I didn’t play for seven straight days. That was on purpose, because my game felt sour and flat, and I was not confident.”
The truth is Skinner’s game was mostly sweet in Thursday’s opening round of the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf. The 52-year-old PGA head professional at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga., posted a 4-under-par 67, featuring six birdies and a pair of bogeys.
It was the best first-round score by a PGA club professional in the Championship since 2003, when Mike San Filippo of Hobe Sound, Fla., turned in a 68. Skinner’s performance, coming in his third appearance in the Championship, led a delegation of 42 PGA club professionals on a cool, overcast day that featured periodic drizzle in the afternoon.
It also left Skinner one shot out of the lead, shared by two-time Senior PGA Champion Jay Haas and Duffy Waldorf, who is making his Championship debut.
Mark Mielke, PGA head professional at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, N.Y., had a 69 in his Championship debut. PGA Life Member San Filippo, playing in his 10th Championship; Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash.; and Bob Gaus of St. Louis, a PGA teaching professional at Tower Tee Golf Center, each were at 71.
“It’s a golf course that rewards you for hitting it in the fairway,” said Skinner, the reigning Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year, who hit all 14 fairways Thursday. “That’s always been part of my game. Round to round, I’ve relied upon being able to put it in play.”
Skinner salvaged his round with a spectacular par-saving pitch on the 195-yard, par-3 sixth hole. Ranked the second-most difficult hole in the opening round, Skinner hit a 4-iron up into a plugged lie in the left greenside bunker and blasted from there across the green and down a bank.
He then chipped in from 40 yards out.
“I was just trying to make bogey and then I rolled it into the hole for a 3,” Skinner said.
Beginning his round on the back nine, Skinner birdied 15, 17, 18, 1, 3 and 4, offsetting bogeys on the 11th and 16th holes.
Skinner’s Championship trip was enhanced when his longtime caddie, Paul Yates, put him in touch with PGA Professional Craig Bollman of Edwardsville, Ill., who not only caddied but also has allowed Skinner to stay the week at his home some 50 minutes from Bellerive’s gates.
“Paul called me a month ago and said Sonny is coming to St. Louis, and needs help, and asked if I would help him out? I said, ‘Sure,’ ” said Bollman, a PGA teaching professional at GolfTEC-Des Peres in St. Louis, who is making his debut caddying in a tournament. “So, my family welcomed him in and he’s an awesome guy.”
Bollman said that he and Skinner exchanged several text messages before Skinner arrived Monday night.
“Sonny got in around 7:30, and I had to go to my son’s baseball game,” said Bollman. “I walked him into the kitchen, said, ‘There’s dinner, and see you tomorrow.’ It’s very easy to caddie for Sonny and it was a really great day for me today, too.”
Bellerive reminded Mielke, 50, of several New York courses within the Metropolitan PGA Section, which added to his comfort level.
“The golf course set-up is almost exactly like what we play,” said Mielke. “There are six tough holes here. I said going in, if I could just par those six holes and maybe make some birdies on some of the other ones, it might be all right.”
Mielke had only two pars over his first 10 holes, a string that went birdie-bogey-par-birdie-par-bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey. He finished with birdies on Nos. 14 and 17.
A FEW TIDBITS ABOUT HAAS’S ROUND: Two-time Senior PGA Champion Jay Haas, who leads after the first round of the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, was one of only two players in the field not to make a bogey today at Bellerive Country Club. He had five birdies and shot 66. (Mark Wiebe also did not make a bogey en route to a 1-under-par 70.)
Other highlights of Haas’s opening round:
• He hit 10 of 14 Fairways
• He hit 14 of 18 Greens in Regulation
• Haas’s uncle, 1968 Masters Champion Bob Goalby, followed Haas on the back nine today. Goalby, 84, played in the 1965 U.S. Open at Bellerive Country Club.
Haas, who was born in St. Louis and grew up in nearby Belleville, Ill., estimates that he has played Bellerive about 30 times. He tied for 62nd in the 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive and tied for third here in the 2004 U.S. Senior Open.
AND A FEW NOTES ABOUT WALDORF’S DAY: Duffy Waldorf made a strong first impression, shooting 66 today and tying for the lead in his inaugural appearance in the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Starting his round on the 10th hole, Waldorf made three birdies on the back nine, and closed with consecutive birdies on Nos. 7 and 8.
Other highlights of Waldorf’s opening round:
• He hit 10 of 14 Fairways
• He hit 16 of 18 Greens in Regulation
• He holed out of a greenside bunker for birdie on the par-3 16th hole
SENIOR NO STRANGER: Peter Senior of Australia, who shot 3-under-par 68 today, is certainly familiar with being near the top of the leaderboard at the Senior PGA Championship presented by Kitchen Aid. In his three previous appearances in the Championship, Senior finished tied for 11th (in 2010), tied for fifth (2011) and tied for fourth (2012).
DÉJÀ VU FOR MUROTA?: Kiyoshi Murota of Japan, tied for third after shooting 67 today, also knows what it’s like to come close to capturing the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy. In the 2011 Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., Murota led after each of the first two rounds, was tied for the lead after the third round, and finished third alone, one shot behind Tom Watson and David Eger (Watson won the Championship in a playoff).
Murato was at 4-under par today, even though he made double-bogey 5 on the par-3 sixth hole.
SKINNER’S HOT STREAK: Sonny Skinner hit all 14 Fairways today and parlayed that consistency into a string of good scores. Skinner, a PGA Club Professional from Sylvester, Ga., made six birdies over a span of eight holes (from No. 15 through No. 4), then parred in for 67, one stroke back of Jay Haas and Duffy Waldorf.
Skinner was the low PGA Club Professional in the 2011 Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
ST. LOUIS CONNECTIONS: Eight players in the field this week have ties to the St. Louis area. Jay Haas, born in St. Louis and raised in Belleville, Ill., leads the Championship after a 66. St. Louis natives Jay Delsing and Bob Gaus, each making their Championship debuts, came in with a 70 and 71, respectively.
PGA Club Professional JC Anderson, born in Springfield, Ill., and a resident of O’Fallon, Mo., had 76. Former Senior PGA Champion Tom Wargo of Centralia, Ill., the oldest member of the field at age 70, shot 77.
Paul Trittler, a native of St. Louis and PGA director of instruction at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., had 73. Former Bellerive Country Club PGA Head Professional Jerry Tucker of Stuart, Fla., a native of Carbondale, Ill., had 76, while Bellerive PGA Director of Instruction Brian Fogt, who had the honor of hitting the first tee shot of the Championship, struggled to an 81.
UNDER PAR, AT PAR: There were 29 players who broke par today and 45 who finished at even-par 71 or better.
NO. 6 WAS A BEAST: A total of 15 double-bogeys (and three other worse scores) were recorded today at the par-3 sixth hole. There were just seven birdies on the 195-yard hole.
BUT 10 WAS TOUGHER: The 10th hole at Bellerive, a 459-yard par-4, was the most difficult hole in the opening round of the Championship. The 10th played to a stroke average of 4.555, and yielded just two birdies. There were 68 bogeys and 10 double bogeys on the hole.
The top-3 toughest holes today:
• No. 10, Par 4, 4.555 stroke average
• No. 6, Par 3, 3.513 stroke average
• No. 5, Par 4, 4.372 stroke average (only four birdies on this hole)
NO. 4 PLAYED THE EASIEST: The par-5 fourth at Bellerive ranked as the easiest hole today, with 72 birdies and just five bogeys. (There were no double bogeys or worse on the hole.) In fact, there were almost as many birdies as pars (79) on the fourth hole.
BACK WAS MUCH TOUGHER: With a stroke average of 36.57 on the par-35 back nine, it played much harder today than the par-36 front nine, which had a 36.72 stroke average.
HAAS PACES SENIOR PGA CHAMPIONS: Tied for the Championship lead, Jay Haas is also out in front of the other Senior PGA Champions in the field. Here are the first-round scores of the other Senior PGA Champions in the field:
Tom Watson (69)
Hale Irwin (70)
Mike Reid (72)
Roger Chapman (72)
Michael Allen (73)
John Jacobs (73)
Tom Wargo (77)
TOUGH START FOR JAKE: Peter Jacobsen, who captured the 2004 U.S. Senior Open here at Bellerive, struggled today with four bogeys on his second nine and shot 75 (4-over par).
LANGER’S TRAVAILS: Bernhard Langer came into the Championship as the only player with multiple victories (two) on the Champions Tour this year and a 68.86 stroke average on that Tour. But instead of a good start in pursuit of his first Championship title, Langer had consecutive triple-bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6, and had to birdie his final hole just to break 80. Langer’s 8-over-par 79 today is three shots worse than his previous high score in this Championship.
MIELKE’S ROLLER COASTER: PGA Club Professional Mark Mielke of East Norwich, N.Y., had only two pars over his first 10 holes. Starting on No. 1, he went birdie-bogey-par-birdie-par-bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey-bogey. Mielke then birdied Nos. 14 and 17 to shoot 2-under-par 69.
SAME FOR FORSMAN: Over his first six holes today, Dan Forsman also found par to be elusive. He bogeyed the first hole, then had three straight birdies, followed by two consecutive bogeys. Forsman ended the round hitting 13 of 14 Fairways and shooting 2-under-par 69.
FAMILIAR FINISH FOR FORSMAN AND COCHRAN: Dan Forsman and Russ Cochran played in the same grouping today and shot the same score (69). They also finished tied for seventh place in the 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.
CHAPMAN BEGINS DEFENSE: Defending Senior PGA Champion Roger Chapman of England, made just one birdie in the opening round (at the par-5 eighth hole) and shot 1-over-par 72.
ELKINGTON WITHDRAWS BEFORE ROUND: Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA Champion, was forced to withdraw before the start of the round today, due to a migraine headache.
HUSTON WITHDRAWS MID-ROUND: John Huston, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, withdrew today because of back problems. Huston played the front in 7-over-par 43 before having to stop.
MARATHON MEN: Bobby Wadkins and Bob Gilder are celebrating their own endurance marks this week. Wadkins, a four-time winner on the Champions Tour, is competing in the 1,000th combined start of his career between the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.
Wadkins shot 2-over-par 73 today.
Gilder, a 10-time Champions Tour winner, is competing in his 59th consecutive major championship on the Champions Tour. He shot 77 today.
KITCHENAID KORNER FOR FRIDAY: On Friday at 1 p.m., KitchenAid will welcome Chef Cat Cora to the KitchenAid Fairway Club (adjacent to No. 10 fairway). Cora is a co-host of the Bravo series Around the World in 80 Plates and is also known for her role as an "Iron Chef" on the Food Network series.
At 2:30 p.m., KitchenAid welcomes local St. Louis Chef Kevin Storm of Bellerive Country Club, for a demonstration at the KitchenAid Fairway Club.