Bob Sowards’ unflappable demeanor, “home field advantage,” and eagle on the 70th hole mellifluously combined to win the 30th Senior PGA Professional Championship. At the 54-hole PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, the Dublin, Ohio, native shot 13-under par with rounds of 64-68-71-72 = 275. Sowards become the first Southern Ohio PGA Member to win the Leo Fraser Trophy, which was presented to him by Kerry Haigh, PGA of America Chief Championships Officer.
Sowards began the sunny, warm, and windy day on the Wanamaker Course tied at the top with Dan Olsen of Robinson, Illinois, and former PGA TOUR player Omar Uresti from Austin, Texas. At the pivotal 16th, a reachable 508-yard par 5, Sowards was two strokes behind Olsen and one behind Uresti. However, he grabbed a one-shot lead when his third shot from the cavernous greenside bunker rolled gently into the hole for an eagle while Olsen bogeyed and Uresti missed his birdie putt.
Sowards protected his lead on 17 and 18 with two pars, including sinking a tricky five-footer on 18 to seal the deal. Olsen went bogey-double bogey for a 76 to finish tied for fifth at 279, and Uresti missed a four-footer on 18 to make bogey to record a 74 and a T-2 with Walter Chapman from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Only the second player in PGA history to win both the PGA Professional Championship (2004) and the Senior PGA Professional title, Sowards, who turned 50 in June, earned $21,500, an Omega watch, and a KitchenAid appliance. The Championship is supported by GolfAdvisor.com and John Deere.
In addition, Sowards, along with other high finishers, picked up three important exemptions: the top five earn a berth into the final stage of the 2018 PGA TOUR Champions National Qualifying Tournament Final Stage, November 27-30 at TPC Tampa Bay; the top eight are exempt into the 2019 Senior PGA Professional Championship; the low 35 scorers earn a spot in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 23-26, 2019, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.
To keep himself in the moment and on an even keel, Sowards, the PGA Director of Instruction at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio, said, “I kept telling myself to ‘free up, free up’ maybe 1,000 times. Today was a complete grind because of the wind. I’m very proud of myself for hitting that final six iron 162 yards into the wind to 18 and then making that last putt.” His even-par 72 under difficult circumstances proved the effectiveness of his “free up” mantra.
Sowards continued, “The two courses we played here at PGA Golf Club, the Ryder and the Wanamaker, were in great shape. And I enjoy playing the third course, the Dye, as well. Being here is always a treat, and you get to play all the shots on these three layouts. The facility itself cannot be beat, and it’s a great place to beat winter, too. I recommend it unreservedly for all golf-minded snowbirds.”
Sowards may exude a little favoritism about PGA GC but for a good reason. He said, “PGA Golf Club is my home away from home. I sometimes feel like I have a homefield advantage.” He has escaped the Dublin, Ohio, winters by participating frequently in the annual PGA of America member competitions in Port St. Lucie. Perhaps, he is the winningest PGA pro ever at this facility in the Sunshine State with 17 wins in the winter events.
Also extending their golf seasons was a seven-strong Massachusetts contingent of New England PGA Section pros: David Dionne, Beverly Golf & Tennis Club; Rick Durocher, Cyprian Keyes; Greg Farland, Marlborough CC; Kirk Hanefeld, Salem CC; Rick Karbowski, Auburn Driving Range; Bob Mucha, Edgewood GC; and Tom Tobey, Sandwich Hollows.
Only Rick Durocher made the Friday afternoon cut to 90 and ties from the 264 pros who teed it up for the first two days. His 69-77 = 146 made the cut on the number, but his 75 on Saturday missed the low 70 and ties by two. The other scores were Dionne, 154; Farland, 150; Hanefeld, 149; Karbowski, 154; Mucha, 154; and Tobey, 148.
However, popular, longtime Massachusetts pro Mike San Filippo—Nashawtuc CC, South Shore CC, and Shaker Hills CC—now a resident of Hobe Sound, Florida, came in fourth with a 67-68-72-71 = 278.
Finally, how about those World Champion Boston Red Sox!
All photography by Vicky MacKay