PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (Oct. 26, 2023) - A trio of experienced PGA of America Golf Professionals sit atop the leaderboard following Thursday’s opening round of the 2023 Senior PGA Professional Championship over the Ryder and Wanamaker courses at PGA Golf Club.
Mike Small (6-under-par 65, Ryder), Jerry Haas (6-under-par 66, Wanamaker) and Mick Smith (6-under-par 65, Ryder) jumped out to hot starts and share a two-stroke lead.
Three players are two shots back at T-4 including Bob Sowards (Dublin, Ohio), Steve Schneiter (Sandy, Utah) and Tracy Phillips (Tulsa, Okla.); all three registered 4-under-par 67s on the Ryder course. Seven additional players are tied for seventh at 3-under.
Small, representing the Illinois PGA Section, began his morning on the back nine of the Ryder course. Following three consecutive pars to open the round, he birdied the par-5, 535-yard 13th; par-4, 425-yard 15th; and par-3, 183-yard 16th.
“I made about a 25-foot birdie putt on 15, my fifth hole,” said Small. “I chipped in on 16 for birdie, which got me going. I played solidly after that. I didn’t make a bogey, which was the key today.”
After making the turn, the Head Men’s Golf Coach at the University of Illinois added birdies at the par-4, 407-yard first; par-4, 396-yard third; and par-5, 493-yard fourth holes.
This week’s championship marks the first competition for Small since August, when he captured the Illinois PGA Section’s Senior PGA Professional Championship for the sixth time. He then claimed his 14th career title in the Illinois PGA Professional Championship, which made him the winningest PGA Professional at a Section Championship across all 41 Sections.
Small hopes to take advantage of his wealth of experience the rest of the week.
“I’ve got to play the par fives a little bit better than I did today,” said Small. “I’ve got to hit some better, solid shots and not rely on my short game so much. I’ve done this before out here. I’ve done this stuff a lot. I’ve just got to play solid golf and take care of what I can do.”
Haas, the Head Men’s Golf Coach at Wake Forest University, recently received valuable putting advice from one of his players, sophomore Andrew McLauchlan, who Haas describes as “one of our best putters.”
“I kind of switched my putting grip to his, cross-handed, and moved my left hand on there a little differently,” said the veteran coach. “I rolled it beautifully today.”
Haas, representing the Carolinas Section, started quickly by birdying the Wanamaker’s par-4, 429-yard second and par-4, 380-yard third holes. After a birdie on the par-5, 544-yard 7th, Haas made the turn at 3-under and registered the first of four back-nine birdies on the par-4, 365-yard 10th. His lone bogey of the day came on the par-4, 448-yard 14th.
“I hit a really good putt for par,” said Haas. “It missed, but I took some stock out of that, at least I didn’t ‘yip’ it up to the hole. I actually hit a nice putt.”
Haas rebounded with birdies on the par-4, 355-yard 15th and what he called a “bonus” at the par-3, 202-yard 17th. He credits his role as a coach and an added emphasis on flexibility for his nearly flawless first day.
“To be honest, getting to watch good players each and every day keeps me fired up,” said Haas. “I’ve been working on my body a little bit, trying to keep it flexible. I’ve been playing okay. I certainly didn’t think I would shoot 6-under today, but I’ll take it.”
Smith, PGA Director of Instruction at Mick Smith Golf in Summit, Wis., began his ascent toward the top of the leaderboard by completing his first four holes on the Ryder course at 4-under. Following birdies on the par-4, 407-yard first and par-4, 396-yard third, Smith recorded an eagle at the par-5, 493-yard fourth.
With a steady wind blowing left to right, Smith aimed left and drilled his tee shot just into the left rough. He faced 225 yards to the flag on his second shot.
“I wanted to cut a 4-iron so I’d be going more over the land than the water,” said Smith. “It landed just short of pin high and rolled 25-30 feet past. I basically had a straight putt down to the hole from 30 feet. I hit it on the line and fortunately it disappeared.”
Smith tacked on birdies at the par-4, 385-yard 14th and par-4, 425-yard 15th.
“I’ve been practicing hard and playing well,” said Smith. “I knew my game was in a good place. You’re always hoping that’ll show up when you’ve got to compete.”
Defending champion Matt Schalk, PGA General Manager at Colorado National Golf Club, is T-36 after shooting even-par 71 on the Ryder course.
In addition to the Leo Fraser Trophy, named after the 16th president of the PGA of America, players are competing for a $335,000 purse, including the winner’s share of $27,000.
The top 35 finishers will be named to the Corebridge Financial PGA Team and advance into the field for the 2024 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship to be held May 23-26 at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
The 2023 Senior PGA Professional Championship, presented by Cadillac, continues tomorrow at PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker and Ryder courses before a cut to the low 90 scorers and ties. Following Saturday’s round, a second cut will be made to the low 70 scorers and ties. The third and final rounds will be contested solely on the Wanamaker course.
For more about the Senior PGA Professional Championship, visit here.
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Greg Dillard, PGA of America, 561-308-8013, firstname.lastname@example.org