POTOMAC FALLS, Va. – Jim Estes of Germantown, Maryland, said it’s been a long time since he felt the pressure of playing in front of a crowd.
The former tour professional turned nationally-recognized instructor for our nation’s Veterans, completed a steady 2-under-par 70 Sunday, securing Low Club Professional honors in the 78th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club – Washington, D.C.
Estes, 52, last competed on tour in 2000 and became co-founder of the Salute Military Golf Association (SMGA). He finished with a 72-hole total of 2-over-par 290, to head a group of five senior PGA Club Professionals making the cut in the 156-player field.
Mark Brown of Oyster Bay, New York, was a stroke back at 291 after a 73, while Rick Schuller of Chester, Virginia, who was deadlocked with Estes going into the 18th hole, suffered a triple-bogey 8 to finish with a 76 and 293. Jeff Roth of Farmington, New Mexico, (77) finished at 298 and Lee Houtteman of Glen Arbor, Michigan, (78) came in at 304.
Estes had not hit more than a bucket of balls in practice prior to arriving for the Championship. “Fortunately, some of the old memories came back,” said Estes, who collected five birdies, including three in a row between the 14th and 16th holes. That effort offset bogeys on Nos. 5, 8 and what he called a “nervous” bogey at 18.
“Not bad for a broken down old pro who doesn't practice,” Estes said with a big smile. “I spend more time working with other people's games than my own. But it's just a privilege and an honor to get out here and play well in front of people that I know well - students, wounded Veterans, but also some of my high school kids.
“So it's easy for me to critique others, but then when you have to go out and do it yourself, you want to make them proud.”
Brown, the 50-year-old PGA Head Professional at Tam O’ Shanter Golf Club in Brookville, New York, was making his Championship debut. He has been a three-time runner-up in the PGA Professional Championship.
“It was tons of fun. Playing with some of these guys that I grew up idolizing and then to play with some of them was kind of cool,” said Brown. “Then, to make the cut was really kind of cool. To try and go for the Low Club Professional was really nice, too, but my putter just let me down all week.”
Brown saw his chances to catch Estes end when he bogeyed No. 16, and had to struggle for a closing par.
“I couldn't make anything. I couldn't read the greens right,” said Brown, who will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open next week. “My speed was pretty good, just didn't make anything all week.”
Schuller, a 54-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Stonehenge Golf & Country Club in North Chesterfield, Virginia, had made his third straight KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship cut and with an eagle on the par-4 ninth hole, was in prime position to grab the crystal bowl at the end of the day. However, he knew that he was tied with Estes and attempted to charge by hitting the par-5 18th green in two shots.
“I felt rushed and knew that we were not playing slow,” said Schuller. “I got a little frustrated and hit a couple loose shots. At 18, I knew that Jim Estes was in at 2-over-par. I hit the drive hard on 18 and hit it out of bounds. It was a tough one to swallow. But I enjoyed the heck out of this week.”
In 2007, Estes was in the forefront as SMGA became a national leader in giving instruction, enjoyment and support to Veterans who had suffered either physical or the mental wounds during military service.
“I couldn’t be happier to be in this position on Memorial Day weekend,” said Estes. “I mean when they come out and shake my hand and say, thank you for doing what you're doing. It means a lot. I just had a walking scorer today, 36 years in the army, Special Operations, he's like, ‘I wanted to be with you today,’ and I really appreciate it. Those are the kind of things you can't replace. Money can't replace it, my personal game, how well I play, all of it is in perspective. It's just a special weekend really.”