KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Saturday Notebook: 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 25, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

(For Media Use)

“Hey Mr. Funk, this is your 7:36 wakeup call...”

Fred Funk was determined to sleep in on Saturday. Bernhard Langer, staying in the same rental house this week in Benton Harbor along with Funk, Gene Sauers and Marco Dawson, was not only sleeping in, but unreachable. He had turned his phone off after staying up late watching television and heading to bed at 12:30 a.m. After all, they’d both missed the cut. Or so they thought.

At 7:36 a.m. on Saturday, Funk’s cell phone rang. It was Dawson, calling from the golf course at Harbor Shores. “Hey, where are you guys?” Dawson asked. “You’re playing. You made the cut.”

That was shocking news to both Funk and Langer, who got out of bed, got ready, and headed to the course for a third round neither thought he would be playing. They had stayed up late fairly certain that they had their weekend off after each player finished at 3-over 145. Funk and Langer had checked the PGA Tour app about 9:30 p.m. Friday night, and it showed them at T-74, with only two players left to finish the second round – and only one of the two, Billy Mayfair, in position to move the cut.

“We went to bed saying, there’s no way,” Funk said. “That was weird. I didn’t expect there to be a chance.”

Langer being Langer, he went out and shot 65, the low round of the day, and moved him to 3-under 210 through 54 holes. Funk, a year older than Langer at 67, got his round to 4 under through 11 holes. He started about shooting his age, then hit a rough patch early on his second nine and made a couple of bogeys, eventually shooting 70, still his best round of the week.

“That never happened to me in my career before,” Langer said of the morning mix-up. He was pleased to finish off a round after being 2 under with five holes to play in Thursday’s 74, and 3 under with four to play in Friday’s 71.

“I just threw up both times, tired. I could be right up there... I had expectations, but then after yesterday, I thought I missed the cut. I was watching a bunch of movies with some guys at the house, and we were up until 12:30.”

A little more than nine hours later, Funk was on the 10th tee for Round 3, with Langer in the group right behind him. Langer’s 65 lifted him from T-70 all the way to T-20. It also kept his record at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship perfect. In 14 starts, he never has missed a cut. Oh, and did we mention that in early February, he tore his left Achilles tendon?

Playing golf on Saturday was an extra bonus.

“Obviously,” Langer said, “it’s much more fun to be playing golf than packing.”

Funk was grateful to play two more rounds as well. His best finish in 2024 has been a T-57, so on Sunday, he can improve on that. He is tied for 49th.

“I was glad I had the opportunity to play today, and I had it going for a while,” Funk said. “I was putting it lights out. I’m hitting the ball not very good and not hitting it anywhere, so this course is playing really long for me. I get it to 4 under (through 11 holes), and I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’

“Two things: If somebody had told me that I would be playing (on Saturday), no. And if I was going to shoot 1 under, well, maybe; or I was going to be 4 under? No. I was never going to do that.

“It was a day of bonuses.”

For the DiMarcos, it’s a team game

Chris DiMarco will begin Sunday with a chance to win his first PGA Tour Champions title, starting the final round within one shot of co-leaders Ernie Els and Greg Chalmers. He’ll play in the second-to-last group after his third-round 71.

One key to his play this week: when his caddie speaks to him, he listens. On his bag this week is Amy DiMarco, Chris’s wife of 32 years. She knows his game well, having looped for him in his early days playing the developmental tours on his road to the PGA Tour.

“I’ve had some great caddies in my career,” said DiMarco, who fought his way to a round of 71 to stay in contention. “She’s the best, because she is so positive. I hit it in the fairway, she’s like, ‘All right, knock it on the green.’

“I can ask, ‘What do you think?’ and she goes, ‘I don’t know. Just put it on the green.’ Then I get it on the green and she goes, ‘knock it in.’ So it’s pretty simple math.”

And what do the two talk about between shots? DiMarco smiled.

“Grandkids,” he said.

Claxton will be back, stronger than ever

PGA of America Golf Professional Paul Claxton was hoping that history would repeat itself this week at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Two years ago, the former PGA Tour professional traveled from Georgia to Harbor Shores and opened with a round of 65, placing him third. He eventually tied for 39th.

This year, it just wasn’t to be, but in many ways that was completely understandable. Back home at Richmond Hill (Ga.) Golf Club, Claxton does just about everything but mow the greens. He serves as the facility’s General Manager, PGA Head Professional and PGA Teaching Professional in addition to running tournaments. There isn’t much time for him to play and practice.

A member of the 41-man Corebridge Financial Team, made up of PGA of America Golf Professionals this week, Claxton shot 78-76 and did not make the cut. “Busy, busy, busy,” is how he described his days at Richmond Hill. Business in the recreational golf space is booming.

“It’s like it was when Tiger came on the scene several years ago,” Claxton said. “More people are playing, it seems, more than ever. New people are coming into the game, and I have a nice junior program that I do, and that keeps me real busy.

“It’s fun to see them get better, play some in high school, some maybe in college. Hopefully I will inspire some to come out here and try.”

Claxton made 108 starts on the PGA Tour playing out there off and on from 1997-2008. He was twice a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour. He still gets excited to compete, and knows there always will be curiosity and plenty of questions from those he teaches, and looks forward to sharing his experiences.

“I’m always able to tell them what the best players in the world are doing. Working out, staying in shape, eating right, getting in the gym ... I encourage them to do what I see the best players out here, and the best players on the PGA Tour, doing,” Claxton said. “That’s the biggest thing I can help them with. Chip and putt. Spend enough time chipping and putting, and don’t waste all your time on the driving range.”

SHORT SHOTS: Expected bad weather arriving Sunday afternoon has moved up the broadcast window for Sunday’s final round of the 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. The fourth round will stream live on Peacock from 12-3 p.m. ET.

The broadcast then will re-air during the original broadcast windows on GOLF Channel (3-4 p.m.) and NBC (4-6 p.m.).

With daylight stretching past 9 p.m. this time of year in Michigan, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship came oh-so-close to getting 156 players around in two days – that despite a 90-minute delay on Friday. Billy Mayfair and Ricardo Gonzalez were the only two to return on Saturday morning to finish their second rounds. Both were on the par-5 ninth hole. Gonzalez, a winner earlier this year in Morocco to earn full-time status on the PGA Tour Champions, already was secure for the weekend. He was 3 under for the tournament, and made par to finish up a round of 71. Mayfair needed a par to stay at 3 over, which was the cutline; when he made 5, he was in for the rest of the weekend. Eighty-five players at 3-over 145 or better made it to the last two rounds... When Stewart Cink eagled his opening hole on Friday, it gave him three eagles in his first 19 holes. He made his senior debut a year ago at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Frisco, Texas.