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PGA honors Albany’s Skinner as the best once again

PGA of America President Allen Wronowski, right, presents River Pointe Golf Club pro Sonny Skinner with his second straight PGA Senior Professional of the Year honor last Friday during a ceremony in Florida. (PGA of America/Special to The Herald)

PGA of America President Allen Wronowski, right, presents River Pointe Golf Club pro Sonny Skinner with his second straight PGA Senior Professional of the Year honor last Friday during a ceremony in Florida. (PGA of America/Special to The Herald)

ORLANDO, Fla. — PGA of America President Allen Wronowski opened golf’s version of “Oscar Night” last Friday in a video that highlighted his first telephone calls to PGA Professionals who had excelled in giving back to the game. Wronowski’s calls to the recipients, placed during last year’s PGA Championship, were revisited Thursday night before an audience of nearly 800 at the 2011 PGA of America Awards in Orlando, Fla., at the Chapin Theater of the Orange County Convention Center.

And once again, among the honorees was Albany golf pro Sonny Skinner.

Skinner, the PGA head professional at River Pointe Golf Club, captured his second consecutive Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Award. During his speech — instead of talking about himself, his career or the loads of success he’s had in the past 20 years — Skinner paid tribute to a family that had lost its son in an automobile accident and gave him, then a 10-year-old, their late son’s set of golf clubs.

“That very special gesture started me in the game and has always held a place in my heart,” said Skinner, who also has never erased a voice message on his home phone from his late father Henry, who passed away last January. “I carry my father with me every time I walk a golf course. He continues to be my inspiration.”

But Skinner didn’t forget to also thank his mother, Sarah, who was on hand at his awards ceremony.

“I was thinking a lot about my father (during the ceremony) because he’s really the reason I started playing golf, but I dedicated it to my mother and accepted the award in her honor,” Skinner said. “My Dad and I were real close, and losing him last year has been tough on me and my mom. She’s always been so encouraging when it came to my golf career, and I just wanted to let her know that, so that’s why I dedicated this year’s award to her.”

Wronowski was pleased to be handing the trophy off to Skinner for the second year in a row.

“This is our night to pay tribute to those who have worked tirelessly to improve others through their hard work and passion,” he said. “Our award recipients have made us proud and elevated our game even more.”

Since turning 50 a year and a half ago, Skinner has certainly elevated his.

Only eligible for the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year for just two years, Skinner has now won it twice in a row. He turns 52 in August and just last April was named the head pro at River Pointe, where he’s been the club’s only resident PGA teaching pro for years. Last year when Skinner won it the first time, he became the only PGA of America pro to ever win the PGA Professional Player of the Year honor and the Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year.

“I’m very proud of the award,” Skinner said. “It’s all based on a points system and how you finish during the season, and I had another pretty good year.”

Skinner (945.33 points), who beat out fellow Georgia pro Craig Stevens of Atlanta by nearly 70 points, not only won several club pro events in Florida, but he won the prestigious end-of-the-year Winter Championships in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in December to cap off his stellar 2011 season. He also was the low medallist among club pros at the Senior PGA Championship — one of four Champions Tour majors during the season — and qualified for another, the Senior U.S. Open.

Skinner is currently waiting for his shot to play on the Champions Tour. He’s one of the top alternates each week after he fell short of automatically earning his card during Q-School. Skinner needed to finish sixth of higher in Q-School for full-exempt status, but ended up seventh, making him an alternate each week the Champions Tour competes.

“I have a shot to play (on the Champions Tour) one of two ways: Either enough people drop out and open a spot for me as an alternate, or I can get in through the Monday qualifier by finishing in the top seven,” Skinner said. “I’m hoping for my chance.”