KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Bland, Green Sit Tied Atop a Strong Leaderboard After First Round of the 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 23, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Richard Green views his golf game as something constantly under construction, its state and its successes forever changing, much like the direction of the wind.

The tall, slender Aussie likes to say his game “ebbs and flows.” Thursday in the opening round of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores, Green was ebbing. Nicely, in fact. An early eagle-3 at the 5th helped get him off to a fast start, and at day’s end he topped the leaderboard at 7-under 64.

Good scoring conditions at Harbor Shores – sun in the sky, little wind, and a golf course still soft from rain earlier in the week – meant good scoring all day long. Green went out in the second group of the day and shot his 64. Englishman Richard Bland would match him playing in one of the final groups of the day, several hours later.

Thursday, Harbor Shores was the neighbor that kept passing out Halloween candy late into the night.

Scott Dunlap, a recent winner in Houston – his first Champions Tour triumph in a decade – had a chance to join the leaders at 7 under with a birdie at his last hole, but made his first bogey of the day at the par-5 9th hole, and fell back a shot. Dunlap signed for 5-under 66, and had lots of company.

Alongside Dunlap on that number were Steve Stricker, the defending champion and the 2023 PGA Tour Champions Player of the Year; former Masters champion Mike Weir; K.J. Choi, an accomplished international winner from Korea; and Jeff Schmid, a 55-year-old PGA of America Golf Professional from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“All in all, a good day,” said Stricker, 57, who has yet to win in 2024. “Seven birdies. Putted well. Gave myself some good opportunities, and it was a good start.”

Dating to his last start of 2023, Stricker has played seven events without winning, which matches his longest winless stretch on the Champions Tour. Stricker captured the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship last spring in Frisco, Texas, where he edged Padraig Harrington in a playoff, and Thursday was his first crack at Harbor Shores. He made seven birdies in his first 15 holes at Harbor Shores, briefly tying Green for the lead at 7 under, then hit a poor drive into a penalty area at the par-4 16th, leading to double.

He did too many good things to let the one bad swing ruin the day. From the intel on his practice rounds, Stricker thought that scoring might be tough, but conditions were such that players went low early and kept the pedal down.

He got past the monster par-3 fourth, looked at a board nearby, and had difficulty processing what he was seeing.

“I was like, what’s going on?” Stricker said. “It was, I thought, pretty challenging right away. Guys got off to a good start. Scores are good. But we have a great day to play."

Green, a smooth, long-hitting left-hander who stands 6-foot-4, has yet to win on PGA Tour Champions, but there is no reason he shouldn’t. He started his season with a pair of ties for seventh, and has top-20 finishes in his last four starts. So he is right there.

“By no means found it easy out there,” said Green, 53. “It was quite challenging, and difficult to hit the ball in the right spot. It’s a big test off the tee.”

Competing in his first over-50 event, Bland, who turned 50 more than a year ago, showed off a strong overall game. He is long off the tee and drove the ball beautifully, not missing a fairway until the 8th hole, which was his 17th of the day. He scrambled for par there, and also got up and down for par at his last hole. He went bogey-free in his first visit to Harbor Shores, which he had scouted and prepared for by watching drone footage on the internet. More importantly, he pretty much kept his round free of any stress.

“My iron shots were right where I wanted them,” said Bland, who plays on the LIV Golf tour. “I could have holed a few more putts ... I guess everybody could say that. Hopefully a good night’s rest and come back strong tomorrow.”

Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, this year’s International captain in the Presidents Cup and a left-hander like Green, shot his 66 in the morning alongside Darren Clarke (67) and Ernie Els (70). He was pleased mostly with his success off the tee, as he went 14-for-14 in hitting fairways. Do that, and the scoring opportunities will come.

In all, 64 players would break par.

Few were more impressive on opening day at Harbor Shores than Schmid, who spends his days as a PGA of America Teaching Professional at Brown Deer Golf Club, a venue that used to play host to a PGA Tour stop. Schmid made his 66 look relatively carefree. He made a lengthy putt for birdie at the par-4 16th, which was a nice surprise, but otherwise, the round was just solid in all areas. Though he lives only a 4-hour drive from coastal Michigan, Schmid is seeing Harbor Shores for the first time this week. He likes the golf course.

He is not completely new to this level of golf, having tried life as a tour pro for a bit – he played in Asia, South America, Canada, the Hooters Tour, pretty much everything, he said – before returning to Iowa, where he went to college, and settling into life as a PGA of America Golf Professional at Brown Deer.

“A couple of years ago, I made the cut at the U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley (in Pennsylvania),” he said. “It really got me to another level. Now I feel like I should make it.”

Schmid certainly had the dream start.