SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Patience, defending champion Steve Schneiter says, is a golfer’s mental “extra club” in the bag before stepping to the tee Thursday to open the 29th Senior PGA Professional Championship at Desert Mountain.
With the Sonoran Desert framing you on all sides, you play alongside but don’t tempt Mother Nature. It’s the smart way to begin the $300,000 Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz and supported by GolfAdvisor.com and John Deere.
Thirteen past champions highlight the 264-member field, and are joined by six PGA Professional Champions. The low 35 scorers earn a berth in the 79th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 22-27, 2018, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
MORE: First round tee times | Faces of the Senior PPC | Full coverage
“This is a great golf complex, no matter what course you’re on,” said Schneiter, 51, a PGA Assistant Professional at Schneiter’s Pebblebrook Golf Course in Sandy, Utah. “If you have patience and can stay out of the desert, you will be able to put some nice scores on the board.”
A year ago, Schneiter became the first PGA Member to claim both a PGA Professional Championship (1995) and a Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“I feel good about playing here, but I’m not trying to get myself too worked up,” said Schneiter. “I am approaching it the same way as last year. Everyone I’ve talked to since I got here Monday loves it.”
Desert Mountain PGA Director of Golf Mike Scully, in his fifth season at the complex, said the field filling both the Cochise and Geronimo Courses are going to find two unique challenges.
“We have two distinctly different golf courses,” said Scully. “Geronimo is more of a canyon, target-friendly golf course where you really have to find the right angles into the greens. Cochise is our tournament course. It’s a little friendlier off the tee. I think we’ll see a bit of a difference in the scoring differential between both golf courses.”
Scully said that golfers unaccustomed to playing at a higher elevation will have to do their homework. “You’ve got to know your ‘10 percent,’” he said. “The 9-iron may travel 150 yards at sea level. Here it’s going to travel probably 160 to 165. Figuring out their adjustment prior to putting it to play tomorrow, I think, will be the big key.”
Joining Schneiter in one of the most popular PGA Member national events are past Champions Pete Oakley, Palm City, Florida (1999); Mike San Filippo, Hobe Sound, Florida (2002, ’05); Jeff Thomsen, Boise, Idaho (2003); Jim White, Lincoln, Nebraska (2004); Jeff Coston, Blaine, Washington (2006); Bill Loeffler, Castle Rock, Colorado (2007); Kirk Hanefeld, South Hamilton, Massachusetts (2008, ’11); Bill Britton, Red Bank, New Jersey (2009); Robert Thompson, Huntsville, Texas (2010); Jim Woodward, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (2012); Gene Fieger, Naples, Florida (2013); Frank Esposito Jr., Old Bridge, New Jersey (2014).
The PGA Professional Champion alumni joining Schneiter include Wayne DeFrancesco, Columbia, Maryland (2001); Darrell Kestner, Glen Cove, New York (1996); J.R. Roth, Farmington, New Mexico (1993); Bill Schumaker, Columbia City, Indiana (1984); Mike Small, Champaign, Illinois (2005, ’09, ’10); and John Traub, Berkley, Michigan (1980).
“We are on the tail end of our bermudagrass holding on,” said Scully. “As soon as the players are done on Sunday, we’re going to overseed both golf courses with rye grass. They’re going to see firm and fast conditions over the four days.”
The Cochise and Geronimo Courses, each Jack Nicklaus designs, present a wide-ranging test of skill. The Cochise Course’s par-72 layout will play to 6,838 yards. From 2012-2016, the course was host to the PGA Tour Champions season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, and it is a former site of the Regions Tradition, one of five major championships on the PGA Tour Champions.
The Cochise Course features four premier “risk-reward” par-5 holes, along with rolling fairways surrounded by water and dramatic rock outcroppings.
The Geronimo Course is perhaps the most visually intimidating of six courses at Desert Mountain, and chosen one of the Most Challenging Golf Courses in Arizona by the Phoenix Business Journal. The par-72, 6,924-yard layout winds its way through dramatic boulders, deep washes, ravines and lush desert and over stunning plateaus.
The top eight finishers, including ties, will be exempt into the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship. The top five finishers earn a berth into the final stage of the 2017 PGA Tour Champions National Qualifying Tournament Final Stage, Nov. 28-Dec. 1.
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