They say to beware of the injured golfer. If that’s the case, heed Dick Mast, who leads the 2020 Senior PGA Professional Championship by a single shot after Thursday’s opening round at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Mast came to Florida confident thanks to his recent play in Virginia and the coaching he was receiving. But that confidence could not account for the sciatic nerve on his right side, which affects his lower lumbar and mimics a rib injury.
“I played well in the practice rounds and that extended into my play today,” said Mast, a PGA Life Member from Forest, Virginia, who has extensive experience on the PGA Tour Champions and won four times on the (then) Nike Tour in the 1990s.
Mast works as a Director of Instruction out of Poplar Grove Golf Club in Amherst, Virginia, where his son, Jacob, is not only the PGA Head Professional, but his father’s part-time coach.
“Everything -- my driving, chipping, and putting -- was in synch today and I was able to score. I plan to ice tonight and see if I can hang on into Sunday.”
Mast’s 14th hole was memorable, as his approach flew the green. He recovered nicely with a “perfect” 30-foot chip-in for the sixth of his seven birdies. He finished with a 6-under par 65 on the Ryder Course.
Bob Sowards (66, Ryder) of Dublin, Ohio, Chad Sorensen (67, Wanamaker) of Bakersfield, California and Jeff Schmid (67, Wanamaker) of Iowa City, Iowa are a shot back of Mast and dealing with their own maladies. Some more serious than others.
Sowards’ famous focus was shaken by the passing of his father-in-law, Ken Friedlander, on Tuesday. Upon hearing the news, Sowards was ready to head back to Ohio, where arrangements were already underway. That is, until his wife, Lynn, called and urged him to remain in Florida. To play.
Thursday’s first round, which included 47 sub-par scores, was played in lift, clean and place conditions due to recent rains on Florida’s Treasure Coast.
But for Sowards, the rules doubled as a mindset that allowed him to, at least temporarily, squelch the pain of loss.
So Sowards did abide by his wife’s wishes. He would lift the family’s spirits as best he could from afar with a clean, bogey-free scoreboard (17 straight greens in regulation to begin a round will do that) that would place him in a prime opening position to win the Senior PPC for the second time in three years.
“I haven’t putted great (as of late), but I was really focused today,” said Sowards, the Omega Senior PGA Professional of the Year in 2018 and ‘19. “I made some putts and quickly got used to the Bermuda greens, which was great.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sorensen, approached his first round on the Wanamaker Course with a clear mind, but a damaged psyche.
“I had no expectations, I was playing so poorly.”
Sorensen, like Sowards, was also wary of the inevitable adjustments that come with Florida’s Bermuda greens. He knew he needed a strategic sounding board to get his game on track.
“My brother and I spoke about the need to account for a little extra break than we’ve been playing with in California, where we’re playing bentgrass,” said Sorensen of his pre-event conversation with his brother, Alan (opening-round 73), who is also in the Senior PPC field this week.
The brothers work together at Buena Vista Golf Course in Taft, California, where Chad is the Head Golf Professional and Alan is the General Manager.
“It was an easy round, no long putts or saves, but the conversation (with Alan) helped, as did the greens being in perfect condition,” said Sorensen.
Schmid, like Sorensen, did not see his 67 coming, as he took the turn on the Wanamaker Course at even par.
After a birdie on 13, he found trouble on the par-5 14th, as his drive cleared the fairway bunkers, but was in the rough and appeared headed for the hazard. His second shot required ample creativity.
“I was 161 yards out, but I also had to cut it about 30 yards just to hope that it would chase up onto the green,’ said Schmid. “I hit it well, saw it bounce twice and then disappeared. I worried that it was over the green. But the other guys in my group said they saw it drop.
“It was a good shot, one of those you're trying to get on the surface and escape with a par. It was a big bonus for it to go in for eagle.”
It was not his last.
At the par-5 16th, Schmidt put it in the fairway and his 4-iron approach left him a 10-footer for a second eagle in three holes. He converted and is now in the thick of a packed leaderboard.
There’s also another saying in sports: One’s finest ability is availability, which was never more true than in the first round Thursday at the Senior PGA Professional Championship.
The 32nd Senior PGA Professional Championship is supported by Golf Channel & John Deere.