Transforming trouble

An early triple bogey could have ruined Craig Stevens' week almost before it got started, but he refused to let it. The PGA Club Professional from Georgia rebounded with a blistering 32 on the back nine and finished the day in the top 20.


After a 40 on his front nine Thursday, Craig Stevens rebounded with a stellar 32 on the back. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Prior to the start of the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by Kitchen Aid, PGA Club Professional Craig Stevens said he'd been eyeing this opportunity for years. So imagine how deflating his early triple bogey could have been.

But those who know "Lumpy," as his friends affectionately refer to him, knew his determination and talent would not allow that one early misstep to define his Senior PGA Championship debut.

"Oh, no question, it was disappointing," Stevens said after his round. "I had just bogeyed a fairly simple par-5 hole on No. 5 and then to have that happen."

On No. 6, after a perfect drive, Stevens blocked his approach shot into the hazard, something he attributed to a momentary "loss of focus." He was able to find his ball and made the decision he could play his ball out. Three shots later, he was out -- leading to what could have been a crippling triple and leaving him 5 over par after only six holes.

"I could either pack it in or remind myself I had a lot of golf to play," Stevens explained, "and I never pack it in. I knew there were plenty of holes left to turn it around."

Stevens went on to par the seventh, birdie the eighth and just miss another birdie on the ninth to go out with a 4-over 40. With the winds starting to blow harder and the already difficult track awaiting the rest of the field, it seemed that staying around that number would give him a chance to play on the weekend. But the PGA Director of Instruction at Brookstone Golf and Country Club in Acworth, Ga., did one better than that. Actually, he did eight better.

Starting with a birdie on the infamous 10th hole and then adding two more birdies (on No. 12 and No. 15) without one blemish on the back nine, Stevens came in with a 32 -- the lowest score by any player on the closing nine of the first round. His first-round total of 72 (+1) left him tied for 17th and only four shots off the lead.

"I hit it well," was Stevens’s explanation, "not just on the back but really all day. Just that one bad hole, that one bad swing. But I hit 13 greens, only took 30 putts. That one swing aside, it really could have been special."

But Stevens doesn’t regret anything. In fact, he's anxious to get back at it on Friday.

"I got a good break today with the wind (gusts up to 25 mph approached for the afternoon wave), and tomorrow the wind is supposed to lay down a bit in the afternoon. (Stevens' tee time on Friday is a scheduled 2:20 p.m.) I like this course. It fits my game, it fits my eye. I'm having a blast."

Stevens, who has played in three PGA Championships, now has the opportunity to make his first Senior PGA Championship the most memorable event he's ever played.

"I can't wait," he smiled. "I'm having so much fun."

Other PGA Club Professionals who fared well include George Forster (+1), the PGA Head Professional at Radnor Valley Country Club in Villanova, Pa.; and Bill Britton (+2), the PGA Direction of Instruction at Trump National Golf Club in Colts Neck, N.J.

Several others are in contention to make the cut once the field is paired down to the low 70 scores (and ties).

Overall, 43 PGA Club Professionals took part in Thursday’s first round. They qualified to compete by finishing in the top 35 at the PGA Senior Professional National Championship and by special invitation by the PGA of America.