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Southwest Georgia golf pro Skinner recognized as 2010 POY

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Albany golf pro Sonny Skinner made history recently when he became the first club professional to ever win both the PGA of America Player of the Year and Senior Player of the Year awards.

What a difference two years can make, huh?

Because that's all the time that passed when Skinner -- then 48 -- won the honor as Player of the Year in 2008. Then he turned 50, officially qualifying as a senior member, and won it again in 2010.

And recently, Skinner was honored during a formal ceremony in Orlando, Fla., where he was presented the coveted honor in front of hundreds of spectators and his friends and family.

"I am fortunate to have a club that encourages me to play," said Skinner, a Sylvester resident who joined River Pointe Golf Club in 2006. "And, I am thankful that The PGA provides the opportunities it does for its members to play in great events. It was a good year, and a pleasant surprise that I could go on to earn this award after turning 50."

Also honored that night a Player of the Year was Mike Small of Champaign, Ill. He and Skinner are longtime friends and competitive rivals who battled all year, including in the National Championship, which Small won and Skinner finished runner-up.

It was the third national award for Small, 44, whose campaign included winning a record-tying third PGA Professional National Championship.

The final Player of the Year standings were determined based on a point system involving both national and PGA Section competitions from Jan. 1 through Dec. 20, 2010 -- Skinner dominated the field this season.

Skinner finished with 1,642.33 points to cruise to the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year honors. Three-time award winner Chris Starkjohann of Oceanside, Calif., was next -- but with only 915.5, some 600-plus points off of Skinner.

Skinner opened his 2010 season by winning the Taylormade-adidas Golf PGA Senior-Junior and Match Play Championships. He added his National Championship runner-up performance with a share of sixth in the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in October, and capped the year by finishing runner-up on the PGA Tournament Series money list in December.

Skinner made the most of his first venture into the 50-and-older ranks, and just missed earning a Champions Tour full-time playing privileges during last fall's Qualifying School. He added 225 points as the Georgia PGA Senior Champion; and added 219 more in three Champions Tour events and 115.5 through seven Nationwide Tour outings.

He, does, however, wish he had another shot at Small in the National Championship.

"I enjoyed the competition, and certainly the battle with Mike at the National Championship," Skinner said. "Mike and I have been good friends for 15 years. I have a lot of respect for Mike and what it takes for anyone to win a golf tournament."

Small's march to a third PGA Professional Player of the Year award included his continuing his dominance in the Illinois PGA Section, where he won a ninth Section Championship, and made his appearance in seven PGA Tour events fruitful in the spring by finishing tied for 17th at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Cancun, Mexico.

Small has served as the University of Illinois men's coach since 2000 and guided a second consecutive Big Ten Conference Championship team. Small accomplished his feat by overcoming a bout with tendinitis in a surgically repaired right elbow that struck him two days before the opening round. He earned 1,452.67 overall points, including 527.67 for his performance in six PGA Tour events, and finished with 212 more points than Skinner (1,240.5), who dueled Small throughout the final round of the National Championship and was the first to greet the champion when he left the 18th green. Small added his national award to those he also won in 2006 and '07.

"I'm honored to win this award for a third time, and I count myself very fortunate for lucky timing when it came to getting past injury to just be able to compete (against Sonny in the National Championship," said Small. "Playing professionally for 10 years, I had learned a lot about dealing with injury, and yet I was blessed at the right time. There are no guarantees in golf; I learned that a long time ago. It is great to still be a player and someone who can help educate younger players to go out and enjoy success on the course."