KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Sunday Notebook: 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

May 26, 2024


Jeff Babineau

After his magical Harbor Shores show, it’s back to work for New York’s Caron

For Jason Caron, the stage was set, and everyone was gathered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, just to see him. His wife, Liz, was there. His two daughters. His parents made the trip from Cape Cod. His younger brother, Nate, was on the bag.

All that was left to do for Caron was to perform. And boy, did he. What a show the 51-year-old PGA Head Golf Professional at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, N.Y. would put on.

Caron, a member of the PGA Tour 20 years ago, started Sunday at 7 under for the tournament, three shots out of the lead and in a close race with Jeff Schmid, a 55-year-old PGA of America Golf Professional from Iowa, for Low Senior PGA of America Golf Professional.

This is how Caron’s morning went: Birdie at the first. Birdie at the second. Four more birdies in four holes starting at the par-4 seventh, a 440-yard monster that Caron made eagle-2 on one day earlier in his Saturday 67.

Caron just kept making birdies, and before long, he was one shot off the lead, sending folks scrambling to the record books to find the last time a PGA Professional had won the event. It was Tom Wargo of the Gateway PGA Section, in 1993, at PGA National Golf Club in Florida.

Caron’s father, Russ, was walking along, having a hard time believing what he was seeing as his son was hanging with the likes of golf royalty, names such as Els and Stricker, Goosen and Cink. He was loving every second of it.

“This is awesome,” Russ Caron said.

For his son, a happy-go-lucky kid who loves his post at Mill River and isn’t longing to test himself against the PGA Tour Champions on any regular basis, Sunday’s fast start almost seemed dream-like.

“One hundred percent,” said Caron, who would shoot 5-under 66 and tie for fourth, the best showing by a PGA Club Professional since Roy Vucinich tied for fourth at Firestone in 2002.

His fellow PGA Professionals spread across Harbor Shores on Sunday – 12 of them made the 36-hole cut – were taking notice as Caron kept climbing the board.

“It’s amazing just having the dream week like I did, or like Michael Block last year at the PGA,” said Ohio PGA Professional Bob Sowards, who three years ago tied for fifth at Southern Hills in Tulsa.

“We’re a group, you know,” Sowards said of this week’s 41-player Corebridge Financial Group team of PGA Professionals from around the country. “It’s cool and it’s like a brotherhood. So it was the only thing I was looking at. I mean, if I made a birdie, I wish I could give it to him. ... It’s good to see one of my brothers up there on the leaderboard.”

Caron lost a little of his momentum at 14 and 15. At 14, he missed a makeable putt for par, and at 15, a good birdie chance, he missed from 5 feet to settle for par. But at 16, at 419 yards, one of Harbor Shores’ most demanding holes, Caron stuffed an 8-iron to 4 feet for one last birdie.

Caron played alongside Chris DiMarco and Richard Green, and both tour veterans enjoyed watching the show.

“Yeah, you know, he (Caron) played fantastic today,” DiMarco said. “He really did. He just hit a lot of fantastic shots. He really controlled his emotions well, I thought. Nice support. Had his family out there. They were cheering for him which was nice. It was fun to watch.”

Added Green, “I was impressed with his game. Unbelievably good. ... Looked unflappable. He hits it good enough to be on the Champions Tour full-time, no problem.”

Ah, that’s the thing. Caron likes exactly where he is in life. He no doubt would enjoy getting more starts in the occasional big tournament, but he tried life as a tour professional once, and he’s comfortable now helping others get better at Mill River.

He and his family were having difficulty rebooking a flight to New York late Sunday because of his late finish, so they all were staying over one more night in the home they rented. Soon, he will be back in New York, either playing in the PGA MET Section’s Head Professional Championship, which begins Tuesday, or back at the club, giving short-game lessons.

“I love what I do,” said Caron, who has two young daughters ages 11 and 7. “Having little kids and being able to watch them grow up means a lot more to me than hitting a white golf ball down the fairway.”

Caron’s dad, who took up the game in 2020 and has his handicap down to 3, had pretty much summed up the week best.


Bland’s putter was put on warning

By Sunday afternoon in Michigan, Richard Bland was champion of the 84th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. But getting to that point was something of a journey.

For one, he putted so poorly in his third-round 74 – heck, he didn’t feel that great about his putting in any of his first three rounds – Bland brought out a new putter out Saturday evening, one he bought, and planned to have it in play on Sunday, even warming up with it before the final round.

Apparently, just the threat of that was enough to make his gamer perform a little better.

On Sunday, he putted beautifully. Even the three-putt he had on the par-3 13thhole was something he could live with because he was rolling the ball so nicely. Sunday morning, instead of going through his normal pre-round routine, he decided to go early to the putting green, and work on that. It paid nicely.

“I think just using a bit of scare tactics on my gamer,” Bland said, smiling wryly, when asked what improved in his putting. “I got here a little earlier this morning and did probably an hour on the putting green with my gamer, just to, you know, sort of kick it up the backside so to speak. Fortunately, it worked.”

Back to the grind

Aussie Greg Chalmers had a chance on the back nine Sunday to win his first start in a senior major, and already he is in the field at the next couple – the U.S. Senior Open at Newport and Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, in Scotland. But finishing third on Sunday did not get him into this week’s upcoming Champions stop in Iowa.

By some point Monday, Chalmers said he will have made the 6-hour drive from Michigan to Iowa, getting him in position for qualifying on Tuesday. Already this season he has successfully qualified for Champions Tour starts. He says the process helps to get him in an aggressive mindset.

Chalmers has proven he has the game to be a factor on PGA Tour Champions. Sunday marked his fourth finish of T-12 or better in five starts in 2024. He plans to keep working toward securing full-time status out there.  

“Shooting low is a habit, and you have to do that on qualifiers,” he said. “I’ve definitely had some luck there.”