Published: Thursday, October 03, 2019 | 8:54 p.m.
Frank Bensel Jr. overcame three bogeys in his first four holes to collect an eagle, his 12th career hole-in-one and six birdies for a 7-under-par 65 and the lead in Thursday’s opening round of the 31st Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac.
Bensel, a 51-year-old Assistant PGA Professional at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York, needed only 25 putts on the Fazio Foothills Course at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa. He owns a one-stroke lead over John Aber of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, whose bogey-free 6-under-par 64 matched the Championship’s first-round record and came on the par-70 Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course.
“With two bogeys starting out at Fazio (Foothills), that hole-in-one couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Bensel, a three-time National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Champion and winner of this season’s Westchester Open. “I had just eagled No. 15 after hitting a 4-iron to 12 feet and nearly birdied No. 16. When I got to No. 17, I drew a 6-iron and knocked it in there.”
Bensel’s back nine (the front side of Fazio Foothills) included five birdies in his final six holes.
“I haven’t been hitting the ball well in practice. I was hooking off the tee a little bit,” he said. “I straightened it out and made a bunch of putts.” Bensel one-putted the last seven holes.
Stu Ingraham of Broomall, Pennsylvania, Gus Ulrich Jr. of Whispering Pines, North Carolina; and Jeff Whitfield of Weldon Spring, Missouri, were two strokes back. Whitfield and Ulrich each had 67 on Fazio Foothills and Ingraham was bogey-free with his 65 at Coore Crenshaw.
The 264-player Championship, supported by Golf Channel and John Deere, features a $300,000 total purse. Forty-two states are represented in the field, which will be trimmed Friday to the low 90 scorers and ties. The final 36 holes will be contested on the Fazio Foothills Course, with the low 70 scorers and ties advancing after Saturday’s third round.
Aber is the PGA Head Professional at Allegheny (Pennsylvania) Country Club in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
“I hit every green except for one,” said Aber, who’s making his Senior PGA Professional Championship debut. “It was easy today, but it’s not always easy. My goal is always to have fun. This place is beautiful and it’s fun to play here.”
Ingraham posted the second-best round on the Coore Crenshaw Cliffside. The 59-year old is making his ninth appearance in the Senior PGA Professional Championship and 38th overall in a PGA of America national championship (29 PGA Professional Championships).
“I think golf’s about knowledge, relaxation and feel. And I had it today. I had to feel, I had to flow,” said Ingraham, a PGA Head Professional at MGolf Range & Learning Center in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. “Something about today, I had a neat feel. I wasn’t even close to a bogey.
The low 35 scorers Sunday will earn a berth into the 2020 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores Resort in Benton Harbor, Michigan, May 19-24. The top five finishers will earn an exemption into the final stage of the 2019 PGA Tour Champions National Finals. And those who finish in the top eight, including ties, will automatically qualify for next year’s Championship, to be held Oct. 15-18, 2020, at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Judd Gibb of Fort Dodge, Iowa, discovered that life on the course is better after turning 50 in April. The reigning Iowa PGA Section Champion had a 68 on the Fazio Foothills Course.
Defending Champion Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, one of the heroes of last week’s U.S. PGA Cup triumph at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, said the past 48 hours have tested him. He grinded his way to 3-under-par 67 on the Coore Crenshaw Cliffside Course.
“Being as high as I’ve ever been and then having to play in another golf tournament is probably the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to do,” said Sowards, who began his round with a double bogey after being unable to find his tee shot in the right rough.
“That was a good slap in the face,” he said. “Probably the best thing that could happen to me. I was 4-under the next four holes.”