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Bob Sowards must like downhill chips on the final hole.
Sowards holed a bunker shot on the 18th hole Thursday to help partner Ben Kern of Round Rock, Texas and Sowards win the Senior-Junior Championship at PGA Golf Club. The unlikely birdie capped off a 10-under 61 on the Ryder Course and clinched a two-shot victory over Brent Studer and Alex Beach.
It was reminiscent of the blind, downhill chip Sowards made on the 18th hole to win his match in the 2019 PGA Cup near Austin and help ignite the U.S. to a comeback win.
“A lot of people were telling me afterward it reminded them of that chip,” said Sowards, the PGA Director of Teaching at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Dublin, Ohio. “I wasn’t thinking about that when I hit the chip. There sure was a lot less pressure on me to hit this chip than the one I made in 2019.”
Sowards and Kern didn’t know it at the time, but they had a one-shot lead over Studer and Beach. After good drives, Kern’s approach shot plugged into a right bunker and Sowards’ sailed left to another bunker.
“I didn’t know where we stood, but I knew a par wouldn’t kill us,” Sowards said. “I hit a great shot and I was lucky for it to go in. It probably wouldn’t have gone more than a foot or 2 by (the hole). To see that go in was definitely a big bang.”
Sowards and Kern have been partners at the PGA Cup – Kern won his singles match just after Sowards in 2019 – but this was the first time they teamed up in the PGA Senior-Junior Championship.
A month ago, Kern walked past the PGA Winter Championships plaques in the lobby of the PGA Golf Club and told Sowards, “We’re going to add our name to the list.”
They did just that by opening with a so-so 67, but closing with rounds of 62, 58 and 60 to finish at 39-under 247. Studer and Beach (60-249) were the only team within nine shots of the winners.
While both names go on the plaque, Sowards said his partner made the victory possible. “Ben was the best player on the property the last three days,” Sowards said. “He shot 64 or 65 on his own ball in the middle rounds. When you’re playing with someone that good, it frees you up.”
“We had fun and we played great,” said Kern, the low PGA Club Professional at the 2018 PGA at Bellerive. “People think you have fun because you play well. I think you play well because you’re having fun.”
Former British Senior Open champion Pete Oakley of Palm City (68-257) and son Zac tied for third place with Tim Weinhart of Alpharetta, Georgia, (61-257) and Luke James of Flowery Branch, Georgia,
The PGA Winter Championships are presented by GolfPass and PrimeSport.