KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Thursday Notebook: 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 23, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

(For Media Use)

Mill River’s Caron opens strongly with 69

Thursday, with a shining sun in the sky not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, would have been a perfect day for the Carons to take their annual Christmas card photo. They all were there. Or so it seemed.

PGA of America Golf Professional Jason Caron might have been the toughest to round up, as he was busy competing inside the ropes at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores, part of the 41-man Corebridge Financial Team. Jason’s wife, Liz, an accomplished player herself, was here walking along, as were their two young daughters, who walked all 18, and Jason’s parents, who made a slight detour on their spring drive from Florida to Massachusetts.

Jason’s younger brother, Nate, was on his bag as caddie. Shoot, even a cousin showed up to watch. It was then up to the 51-year-old Caron, PGA Head Golf Professional at Mill River Club (Oyster Bay, N.Y.)  to do something worth watching, which meant he had to remember how to play championship golf – something he did well enough to spend a handful of seasons on the PGA Tour.

Caron came through in a big way, making one final birdie on the par-5 ninth, his final hole of the day, to get him to 2-under 69, a solid opening effort. Caron got it to 3 under through four holes at one point, the highlight being a 6-iron he nearly holed at the 206-yard 13th hole. (His morning started on No. 10). His 7-year-old Julia, could have brushed in the 3-inch putt.

Caron played in a couple of PGA Championships a few years ago, and once tied for 30th in the 2022 U.S. Open, but competitive golf is different for him now. He plays in the highly competitive MET PGA Section in New York, which helps, but big tournaments are few and far between. A week like this gets the juices flowing again.

“I tried to plan a little bit to get in some spring practice sessions, and I kind of blocked my book so I’d be available for like a week before I got here,” Caron said. “I worked on my game a bit. Even if I was out there in a rain jacket, I wanted to be out there, hitting balls.”

His members at Mill River, which is a busy place, love that he and Liz still can play golf at the highest level. He is here this week testing himself against players such as Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, and Padraig Harrington. Caron didn’t like the way he performed at the recent Senior PGA of America Professional Championship in Texas (T-32), so he worked on making an adjustment. Mainly, he thought he was being too technical when he was hitting shots. His adjusted thought process was to be more reactive. Stand over the ball and hit it.

The final birdie he made at the par-5 9th was huge to him, because he played too nicely to settle for a round that started with a “7.” It was nice to get into the clubhouse with a score in the 60s, a lofty accomplishment for one who spends his days helping others with their swings, and their games.

“It’s funny,” he said. “I was walking down the fairway on the last hole and thought, ‘Look, you just showed that you can still do it. Now, just stay out of your way, one shot at a time, don’t let your mind race. Play instinctive.’

“We’re not around the golf course enough, really, being a head golf professional,” Caron said. “So I try to make it simple if I can. ... It was a lot of fun out there, for sure.”

And now, time for that photo ...

Strong showing by the Corebridge Financial Team

Jason Caron had set the tone early for the 41 PGA of America Golf Professionals in the field, several of whom played very well. Iowa’s Jeff Schmid shone even brighter. He led the Corebridge Financial Team by shooting 5-under 66, which put him in a tie for third.

Schmid, 55, has played in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship three times previously, but has a good opportunity to surpass his best finish, which was a tie for 63rd a year ago in Frisco, Texas.

Frank Esposito Jr. (Florham Park, N.J.), who turns 61 next month, played his first nine (the back) in 1 over, then shot 4-under 32 on the front nine to get to 68. His round included a double bogey at the par-4 18th, his ninth.

Esposito has been playing competitive golf for 40 years, and owns some impressive victories and accomplishments on his resume. He is a six-time winner of the New Jersey PGA Senior Player of the Year, winning the honor in each of the last four years.

Likewise, Bob Sowards, winner of the 2023 Senior PGA Professional Championship played in Florida last October, shot 71. His round included a triple-bogey 6 at the par-3 11th. Sowards set the bar high for Senior PGA Professionals in this event a few years ago at Southern Hills, as he tied for fifth in 2021.

Tough start for Bernhard

Bernhard Langer, 66, is competing this week despite sustaining a torn Achilles tendon in his left foot in February. Langer, the winningest player in PGA Tour Champions history, with 46 titles, returned from the injury well ahead of schedule, in three months.

He applied for, and received, an exemption from the ADA to ride a cart in competition this week. Langer won the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in 2017, but was unable to defend his title at Harbor Shores the following year. This week marks his 14th start in the event, and Thursday he struggled, shooting 3-over 74 (the same score shot by Padraig Harrington, last year’s runner-up).

It was the highest score he shot in this championship since shooting 74 in the final round of the 2015 championship. Langer will begin Friday in a tie for 98th place, and after the second round, the field will be trimmed to low 70 and ties. Langer never has missed the cut in this championship, and only twice has he finished worse than a tie for 20th.