PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Alan Morin, the PGA Assistant Professional at The Falls Country Club in Lake Worth, Florida, fired a 6-under-par 66 Thursday for a one-stroke lead in the 39th National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship.
Frank Bensel of Purchase, New York; Tommy Gibson of Homestead, Florida; Paul Selvaggio of Valhalla, New York; and Mick Smith of Summit, Wisconsin are grouped together, one stroke behind Morin, after carding 5-under 67s. Bensel is a three-time winner (2010, ’11, ’13) of the Championship, which has been played at PGA Golf Club since 1996.
Morin described his opening 66 as “steady, solid, no-frills, boring golf. Honestly, it could have been a bit lower. I missed three putts of less than 10 feet.” With birdies on 2, 7, 8, 11, 13 and 16, Morin was well balanced, 3-under on both sides of Wanamaker’s par-72 layout.
Morin was generally pleased with his effort Thursday, but he’s been unable to completely shake the sting of last month’s 27th PGA Cup, which Great Britain & Ireland won, 13½ to 12½, at CordeValle in San Martin, California.
The premier international competition for club Professionals between the PGA of America and The Professional Golfers’ Association went down to the final match, the final hole, and the final putt. That’s where Morin was. He was America’s anchor. The aforementioned final stroke came from Ireland’s Niall Kearney, who rammed home a decisive 7-foot par putt to win the match, 1 up, over Morin.
Morin admitted that the PGA Cup was “still not behind me. I think about it just about every day. Sometimes before I go to sleep, I think about it. It’s in the back of my mind. I try not to let it affect me, but it is hard to not think about the chain of events” that led to the setback.
His on-course atonement, however, is well underway and his 66 was another step in a positive direction. Morin hit every fairway and 17 greens despite not being afforded the luxury of a practice round. “I’ve been working all week,” he said.
The lack of preparation did not seem to matter much to Morin, who scrambled on the 18th to cap off a bogeyless round.
“I’ve played here [at PGA Golf Club] many times. We used to play Section events every May. Back in 2003, I played in the PGA Cup when it was here. I have played this golf course [The Wanamaker] enough that I know the place and feel comfortable here.”
Bensel also is comfortable with his position, one shot back, and the course, “the Wanamaker just suits my game,” he said. “I don’t hit the ball too high, which helps in Florida, because the wind does not affect me as much. I’ve also learned about the grass down here and how to best read the greens.”
Defending Champion Grant Sturgeon, of Port Chester, New York, had a 2-under-par 70. “It’s great to be back here. Any time you can win a National Championship it is good, so it’s nice to be back. Today, I gave myself a ton of chances, but things got a little loose around the 13th hole,” said Sturgeon, whose last 6 holes blended three bogeys and two birdies.
Thanks to a pair of eagles (7, 16) and two birdies (1, 13), Gibson was 6-under on the Wanamaker’s quartet of par 5s. “Today I put the ball within 15-20 feet and made some putts,” he said.
The 2015 National Car Rental PGA Assistant Champion, if eligible, will earn a berth in the 2016 PGA Professional Championship, which will be played at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, New York, June 26-29. In addition, the top four finishers and ties this week will earn a berth in the 2016 National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship, if otherwise eligible.
--PGA Golf Club is hosting the National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship for the 20th consecutive year.
--Morin and Sturgeon are two of three players in the field this week that also played in last month’s PGA Cup at CordeValle. The third is Ben Polland of Manhasset, New York, who posted an even-par 72 Thursday.
--Karen Paolozzi of Atlanta, Georgia, won the Georgia Section qualifier and is the only woman in the field. Paolozzi said the novelty of such a distinction wore off a long time ago. "I am just a player," she said. "It does not feel any different to be the only girl. I am just one of 133 in the field this week."
She shot an opening-round 69 and is tied for 11th, three shots off the pace. Playing in high-caliber championships is nothing new for Paolozzi, who is appearing in her second consecutive National Car Rental PGA Assistant Championship. She tied for 65th here in 2014.
"I hit the ball well today. I only missed one green," she said. "I wish I could have connected on a few more putts."
Paolozzi also played in the 2014 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and has already qualified for next year's LPGA major at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington; and the '14 PGA Professional National Championship, where she tied for 49th to register the best overall performance by a woman PGA member in the National Championship.