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Albany’s Skinner finishes tied for 35th after memorable Senior PGA

Sonny Skinner drops to a tie for 35th in the Senior PGA Championship after staying in the Top 15 for the first three rounds.

Sonny Skinner drops to a tie for 35th in the Senior PGA Championship after staying in the Top 15 for the first three rounds.

ST. LOUIS — It took Sonny Skinner 12 hours to drive back to Southwest Georgia after wrapping up his best finish at the Senior PGA Championship.

With every mile, the memories of the past four days mounted for Skinner, the head pro at River Pointe Golf Course who captured national attention for his play at the Champions Tour major championship.

There was the rise to a tie for third place after Thursday’s opening round.

There was the unforgettable 40-yard chip shot on Thursday that dropped into the bottom of the cup and made national highlight reels.

And then there was the support flooding in from across the nation.

Skinner, who finished tied for 35th after shooting a 3-over 74 in Sunday’s final round, said nothing meant more than the love he felt from his friends.

“It was a pleasant surprise to play well and to get encouragement from so many members at River Pointe and from friends around the country that I have played with and known for years,” said Skinner, as he drove home from St. Louis late Sunday. “That might stick with me more than anything.”

Skinner’s opening-round score of 4-under 67 put him one stroke off the lead heading into Friday’s second round, but he slipped down the leaderboard each day and finally ended in a tie for 35th at 1-over — still good enough for his best finish in the event by 10 places.

“I really struggled all week to hit the ball solid,” said Skinner, who finished as the low club pro in 2011 and tied for 45th. “The first day I got the ball up and down and scored really well, but usually when I play well I hit the ball well from tee to green. A championship golf course like this really shows your flaws a lot more than other golf courses. I just didn’t play well from tee to green.”

Skinner, who finished 14 shots behind champion Kouki Idoki and won $9,600 after starting his final round in a tie for 15th place, went over par for the first time in the tournament during Sunday’s back nine, where he had three bogeys in a span of four holes, losing his lead among club pros.

He birdied No. 17 to pull within one shot of club pros Jeff Coston and Mark Mielke and nearly holed a 25-yard bunker shot on No. 18 to get even with the duo.

“It barely went by the edge,” Skinner said. “I knew I needed it to be the low club pro, so I just visualized it going into the hole.”

It wouldn’t have been a hard image to visualize for Skinner, who watched his 40-yard chip shot drop into the sixth hole three days earlier.

Right beside Skinner for the entire tournament was caddy and newfound friend Craig Bollman, a PGA teaching professional from St. Louis who Skinner met this week through a mutual friend.

Bollman not only carried Skinner’s bag, but he hosted him at his house for the week.

“Without him I would have been lost and not in a very good mood all week,” laughed Skinner, who had never played Bellerive Golf Course before the tournament.

Bollman had just enough knowledge of the course — and offered plenty of encouragement throughout the tournament — to help Skinner during his remarkable four days.

“If you can’t mesh with Sonny, you can’t mesh with anybody,” Bollman told PGA.com. “I would have offered to caddie for any fellow PGA Professional that asked, and I’d hope and believe that the same courtesy would be extended to me by another PGA member if I were in need. That’s part of being a part of the PGA. But yes, being with such a great player is a real treat.”