Honors Course club pro Henrik Simonsen excited to play in Senior PGA Championship for first time

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This past weekend's PGA Championship was the first to include two Baylor School graduates, with Keith Mitchell missing the cut by a stroke and with Luke List owning sole possession of second place during Saturday's third round before posting his best finish in a major by winding up sixth.

The impact of the Chattanooga area at golf's ultimate levels isn't taking any time off.

Taking center stage this week is the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Rochester, New York, where the field will include two participants who list Ooltewah as their hometown. The first is Gibby Gilbert III, who this year has PGA Tour Champions full exempt status for the first time, and the other is Honors Course club professional Henrik Simonsen, who is having to transform from being everybody's buddy to everybody's foe.

"It's very different playing casual golf with the members here and then going out and trying to compete," Simonsen said. "I have high hopes of making the cut and doing my very best up there, but it's hard for a club pro to come in and get that mindset of competing at the level with a (Miguel Angel) Jimenez and a (Colin) Montgomerie and all those superstars who are out there.

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"My game is good, and I feel good about it. We'll just see if I can keep the nerves in check."

Simonsen is among the 35 club pros who have qualified for this week's 72-hole event at the Oak Hill Country Club. The Denmark native had to first navigate a Tennessee qualifier to earn one of the four available state spots, and then he advanced to the nationals in Florida, where he finished 20th in a field of 312.

Though it's the first Senior PGA Championship for Simonsen, it's not the first tournament at such a grand stage. He qualified for the Senior British Open last July at Scotland's famed St. Andrews but missed the cut.

"I had it going a little bit and was 1 under after 12," Simonsen said, "but I hit right into the wind from 13 to 17 and managed to make a triple bogey on 17. I finished with a 76, and that was kind of the end of it, but it was a great experience."

Simonsen's parents flew from Denmark to watch him at St. Andrews, and his son, current University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer Oliver Simonsen, served as his caddie. An All-Southern Conference performer who previously starred at Baylor School, Oliver has a busy schedule that will not allow him to travel to New York, so it will be Simonsen's wife, Tamara, providing the spectator support.

Oliver gave the Simonsen family a good start to the week with a two-stroke victory at the Signal Mountain Invitational on Sunday.

As one of the youngest competitors in the Senior PGA Championship, Simonsen hopes his advantage in driving distance can counter a lack of experience compared to the PGA Tour Champions regulars.

"I got a practice round in at the British Open with Corey Pavin and Larry Mize, and I was hitting it well past them, but their accuracy was really something," Simonsen said. "The key is to keep it in the fairway and to hit the short grass. That's going to be the main thing."