Morton's 'awesome' Sr. PNC experience

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. -- As he headed home from Raleigh early Monday night after flying back from California, Rock Creek Country Club head golf pro Rick Morton had a ready -- and understandable -- answer to how it felt to qualify for the 2016 Senior PGA Championship.

"It's awesome," he said.

The 54-year-old Morton qualified for the Senior PGA Championship by finishing 21st in the National Senior Club Pro Tournament at the Bayonet & Black Horse Golf Course in Monterey, Calif., shooting a 1-under 287 in the four-day event that concluded Sunday.

The top 35 qualified for the Senior PGA Championship. John Dal Corobbo, 51, assistant pro at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course in Speedway, Ind., won with an 11-under 277.

Morton played in two regular PGA events in his younger days, but this will be his first Senior PGA Championship, which is May 26-29 at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.

"It's quite a thrill," Morton said in a telephone interview. "I am really looking forward to it. It's hard to get in those events, it's such a closed field now. They only have a few players (who can qualify outside PGA Tour golfers) ... It's going to be a heck of adventure for me for sure."

While it's seven months away, Morton was asked what his goal was -- and was winning goal No. 1.

"Well, I don't think I'll probably win," he said with a laugh. "But I'm playing well enough, and maybe when it comes around I'll still be playing pretty good and maybe be able to compete and put in a good showing anyway. I would at least like make the cut. That would be really good."

Morton said he's never played Harbor Shores.

"But I've got some buddies who have played in the event and they told me it's really good and that it's a tough golf course," he said. "I like that. I like 'em tough."

Morton, who earned a spot in the National Senior Club Pro Tournament by shooting a 70 in a qualifier, turned in a strong performance in California that included just one three-putt. He opened with a 4-under 68 that included seven birdies. He followed that with a 2-under 70 on Friday and sat at 6-under heading into the weekend.

"I played fantastic the first two days obviously," he said.

But then came Saturday.

"The third day it was just a weird day. I felt really good playing, but nothing went right. Everything that could go wrong seemed like went wrong. But I held in there well enough not to blow myself out of it," he said.

- The round included his only double bogey of the tournament, which came on the par-4 15th and left him at 5-over.

"My ball, it was up against a root," he said. "So I chopped it out and got down in front of the green and halfway flubbed my chip shot. Then I chipped on and two-putted for a double bogey. That was bad for sure."

Morton, however, recovered to shoot an even-par 72 on Sunday, a round that looked headed to a low number when he walked off the par-5 10th with a birdie to go to 3-under.

"I had a really good putt to go to 4-under. I didn't make it," he said. "But my mindset at the time was just to go and make more birdies. I took some chances off the tee where maybe I didn't need to. Maybe I should have played a little more conservative, but I was trying to get as high up as I could. Of course, the higher you get, the more money. But in hindsight I wished I maybe not be quite as aggressive off the tee at the end. But I'm glad I didn't shoot myself out of it."

This article was from The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.