KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Friday Notebook: 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 24, 2024


Jeff Babineau

Corebridge Financial Team enjoying success

Iowa’s Jeff Schmid shot even-par 71 early Friday and heads into the weekend of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship leading the race to be Low Senior PGA of America Golf Professional at Harbor Shores.

One week after a pair of PGA Professionals made it to the weekend at the 106th PGA Championship in Louisville, Schmid, one of 41 members of the Corebridge Financial Team, will have some company in playing the weekend at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Rain suspended play for about 90 minutes mid-afternoon on Friday, meaning the completion of the second round – and cut to low 70 and ties – was pushed to Saturday morning with just two players left to finish their rounds.  

But there were several strong performances by PGA Golf Professionals early on Friday, with 12 currently inside the projected cut line, which was sitting at plus-3 on Friday evening.

Florida’s Rod Perry (Crane Lakes Golf & Country Club) set the tone with a four-birdie, no-bogey 67 that took him inside the cutline after his opening 76.

Frank Esposito Jr., Teaching Professional at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., shot 3-under 68 and will make the cut in the event for the first time since 2014, when he tied for 39th at Harbor Shores. He had missed the cut in his last six KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship starts, so performing well enough to stick around for the weekend was very meaningful.

Esposito, 61, a four-time New Jersey PGA Section Player of the Year and six-time New Jersey Senior PGA Player of the Year, made a putter change on the way to the first tee on Thursday, and it has paid off. He was set to go with a long putter, but found it too heavy as Harbor Shores’ greens began to speed up, so shifted back to a more conventional-style Odyssey mallet just before he played. The move has paid handsomely, with Esposito shooting 71-68. At 3-under 139, he finds himself trailing Schmid by two.

“My caddie looked at me like I had three heads,” Esposito said about the last-minute switch. “Went right in my locker as we were walking and switched it. It's a little lighter, a little shorter and I got better feel with it.”

Esposito has made nine birdies in his two rounds, including three on Friday. This is his fifth trip to Harbor Shores, so he knows what to expect of the golf course and its sometimes confounding green complexes. He played in a U.S. Senior Open qualifier Monday at nearby Point ‘o Woods and did not putt well, so to watch some putts fall has been a nice change.

One highlight of this, his eighth KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, was playing a practice round with the winningest over-50 player of all-time, Bernhard Langer.

“It's just another week to them,” he said. “To me it means more. I don't do it often. I have a real job. So try not to get up, and just try to do what I do like when I'm playing at home in section tournaments – and not try to get overwhelmed with everything.”

By playing well for two rounds, he has earned two more, which is a nice bonus.

“You know, it's nice to make the weekend,” Esposito said. “Making a check (this week). Whoo-hoo! Very excited.”

PGA Professional Bob Sowards, champion of the 2023 Senior PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club in Florida, finished birdie-birdie on his final two holes Friday – the par-4 8th and par-4 9th – to move from 4 over to 2 over and in all likelihood make the cut for the fifth time in as many KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship starts. He tied for fifth in the championship three years ago at Southern Hills.

Cameron Percy’s now 1-for-1 as a senior

Australia’s Cameron Percy was the medalist at the PGA Tour Champions Qualifying School in Arizona in December, leading the way as four Aussies were able to land cards for 2024. (Only five cards were awarded at Q-School.)

There was only one catch for Percy. He was able to attend the Q-School because he would be turning 50 in 2024; but he was only 49 when he got through, and was not turning 50 until May 5. So this week in Michigan marks his debut as an over-50 player. He feels a sense of urgency to make up for lost time.

He opened with 2-under 69 despite being competitively rusty, and on Friday he shot 1-over 71. Making the cut was a big deal considering his runup to the event.

“You think you’re prepared” Percy said, smiling, “and you’re not. It’s like, oh no, I didn’t do this, this, this and that.”

He had hoped to get to his first start on the PGA Tour Champions with a few more rounds under his belt, but in truth, Percy has not played at all since December. There was a mix-up regarding his PGA Tour status; he thought he would get starts in Puerto Rico and Punta Cana – two opposite-field events – but did not get in either field. By then, it was too late for him to get the Korn Ferry starts he hoped to have.

What did he do for roughly five months? He was in Raleigh, N.C., spending time with his family in the city that has been his home since 2009.

“I physically took time off,” Percy said. “I had burnt myself out, basically. I’d played 15 years in a row without a break. When I could start, I didn’t want to touch a golf club.

“It was great, really. I got to hang out with the kids (he and his wife have three boys), and I didn’t get on an airplane for months. I really enjoyed it.”

Funny story: Percy finally thought he at least could get some quality pre-championship practice in at home ahead of heading to Benton Harbor last weekend. But the course where he plays and practices, the Country Club of Wakefield, was conducting its member-guest.

Phillips is strong again in Michigan

Tracy Phillips, 61, PGA Director of Instruction at Cedar Ridge Country Club (Broken Arrow, Okla.) had one of the best weeks of his golf life two years ago at Harbor Shores, where he stood seventh in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship after two rounds and eventually tied for 17th. A highlight of his week: He played two rounds with Ernie Els, the four-time major winner who had high praise for Phillips’ game and tenacity.

On Friday, needing a solid round to make his way to the weekend, Phillips was terrific again, shooting 2-under 69 to get back to level par for the tournament, earning his way to the weekend for the fourth time in five KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship starts.

Twice Phillips holed chips – at No. 4 and then again at 5 – to turn what would be difficult up-and-downs for pars into birdies. Through 11 holes, he was 5 under par, and at the 413-yard 12th, he striped his tee shot right down the middle. It was time for another birdie. And then he got hit by some bad luck.

“I didn’t see mud on the ball, but I had a mudder, and it just went straight right into the trees and high grass,” he said. Phillips could barely get a club on his third shot, moving it about 5 feet, and a poor chip led to a double bogey.

“Yeah, middle of the fairway, make a good swing, looked up, and the ball went straight right,” he said. “That was tough.”

He hung in there and finished strong, and now he is around to challenge for Low Senior PGA of America Golf Professional on the weekend. He will start five shots behind Iowa’s Jeff Schmid.

“It’s good to shoot a good one when you have to,” Phillips said.