From the PGA
Larkin Gross, Taylor Collins and Bob Sowards Earn PGA Professional Player of The Year Awards presented by Rolex
Larkin Gross of Center Cross, Virginia; Taylor Collins of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, captured their respective 2021 PGA of America PGA Professional, Women’s PGA Professional and Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year awards presented annually by Rolex in conjunction with the PGA of America.
Gross, a PGA Assistant Professional at Springfield (Va.) Golf and Country Club, had a memorable year, winning three single-day events in Middle Atlantic PGA Section play in addition to victories in the Section’s PGA Professional and Assistant PGA Professional Championships, but it was his performance in April’s PGA Professional Championship that will be best remembered.
Despite being the youngest player—23—at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Gross finished fourth among the talented 312-player field. His debut in the PGA Professional Championship was headlined by a 64 on Tuesday afternoon that included 11 birdies to match the lowest third round in the 54-year history of the event. His remarkable effort allowed him to advance to his first PGA Championship three weeks later at The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Gross, now 24 years-old, collected 870.000 total points to garner the initial national award of his career, while Brett Walker of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, was runner up with 826.667. Tyler Collet of Vero Beach, Florida, (680.417) was third and Mick Smith of Summit, Wisconsin, (675.000) finished fourth.
“To win this award is awesome,” said Gross, who was a member of Methodist University’s Division III National Championship squad in 2018 before becoming a PGA Professional in 2020. “To be honest, I was more focused on winning the Player of the Year award for the Middle Atlantic Section. So it is great to accomplish both. My iron play was really good this year, especially my wedges from 100 yards and in. That gave me a chance. But my greatest strides came with the putter. I did not always feel like I was putting so well, but as I looked back on the year, that was my greatest area of improvement. I had and made a number of birdie putts and that’s how I elevated my game.”
Collins—a PGA Teaching Professional at Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale—tallied 522.500 points to earn her first career national award from the PGA of America. She claimed a pair of South Florida PGA Section victories, highlighted in September by a four-shot victory over a predominantly male field in the Section’s PGA Professional Championship at BallenIsles Country Club-East Course. In doing so, Collins became the first woman to win the South Florida PGA Section’s signature event. Collins tacked on another South Florida PGA Section victory in the Section’s Tournament Series Event No. 2, also in September.
Ashley Grier of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (475.000) was runner up to Collins, while Allie Knight of Knoxville, Tennessee, (343.750) and Jennifer Borocz of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, (335.000), finished third and fourth, respectively.
Collins, 32, played collegiate golf at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, where she had a hand in NSU winning four team National Championships. She added an individual Division II national title in 2011. Two years later, she won Golf Channel’s “Big Break Mexico,” which closely coincided with stints on the LPGA and Symetra Tours.
“I’m excited about winning the Women’s Player of the Year, it feels like the perfect way to end such a memorable year,” said Collins, who was elected to PGA of America membership in 2018. “I had two goals this year, to qualify for the National Championship and to win this award. Winning the (South Florida PGA) Section Championship was the cherry on top and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.”
Sowards—a PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf and Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio—bolstered his lengthy championship resume in 2021, winning three times in Southern Ohio PGA Section play, but it was his T-5 finish in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Southern Hills that was most impressive. Sowards led the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf during portions of the second round before a late-round fade, which served to set up a weekend charge that earned the second largest payday of his professional career ($106,000).
Back home in Ohio, Sowards’ three wins included a fourth consecutive victory in the Southern Ohio PGA Section’s Senior Professional Championship, played at Scioto Reserve Country Club, and a third straight title in the Ohio Senior Open at Firestone Country Club (Fazio Course). His year began with a flourish as he partnered with Ben Kern of Round Rock, Texas, to win the Senior-Junior Team Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
The Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year citation was Sowards’ third as a senior golfer (also 2018 and ‘19) and his seventh overall (he’s been PGA Professional Player of the Year four times: 2003-05, ‘14), which nudged him past Sonny Skinner for the most all time.
Sowards’ 1292.500 points outpaced the 906.030 accumulated by runner-up Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas. Rob Labritz of Pound Ridge, New York, (711.667) took third and Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Florida, (681.500) fourth.
“This was a great year, especially because it started with wholesale changes to my game, both putting and with my swing,” said the 53-year-old Sowards, a PGA Professional since 1994. “The week in Tulsa (T-5 in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Professional Championship) was great. To play so well in a Major Championship was a great thrill. It was also gratifying to qualify for and make the cut at the (Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex). I reached most of my goals this year and it was neat to jump past Sonny to grab that seventh national PGA of America award.”