ALBANY — As much as Sonny Skinner wins on smaller stages, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he finds glory on a big one.
Skinner, the head pro at River Pointe Golf Club, took a big step toward that goal this week when he won the Georgia Senior PGA Championship, coming from four shots back during the final round to win by a staggering three shots thanks a to a masterful 7-under performance Tuesday that was bogey-free.
“It was a good day. I’m very thankful. I had a good feel for the greens and the breaks, and I was able to bring it home,” said Skinner, 53, who received a check for $1,000 for winning the event for the first time since he turned 50 and became eligible for senior events. “I’m grateful to be able to play as much as I am these days. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’ve got a lot of practice in. I guess when you’ve practiced as long as I have, it’s bound to come eventually.”
The win, however, means so much more to Skinner’s career than a small check and a few headlines in Georgia. Not only is he now qualified for the PGA of America Senior Club Pro Championship in Washington, D.C., later this year and the full-field PGA National Championship, but it also puts Skinner in a sectional qualifier to play his way into some of the 2014 majors on the Champions Tour, where he played two of the four big events this past year.
Yet, there’s more.
Skinner is one tournament away from clinching his third straight Georgia Senior PGA Player of the Year award — a feat that’s never been accomplished. And if he wins POY in Georgia, he’s also a favorite to repeat for a fourth time as national Senior PGA of America Player of the Year — and that would be another first-time feat for a club pro.
Of course, Skinner knows all about making history.
In 2008, at age 48, he was named PGA of America’s Player of the Year out of all the club professionals in the country. Two years later in 2010, when he turned 50, he won his first Senior PGA Player of the Year honor, becoming the first club pro to ever win both honors during their career.
“No one had ever done that before,” Skinner said. “I felt really good about that and where my game was at when I became the first to win both.”
When you’re dominating the country like Skinner is, it’s no wonder he had a field day at the Ansley Golf Club in Settindown Creek in Roswell this week. Skinner, the current Georgia Senior PGA points leader, trailed Craig Stevens after Day 1 of the championship by four shots. Coincidentally, Stevens is in second place behind Skinner in points and could’ve taken over the lead had Stevens held on to win.
“Craig’s a good friend of mine, and we’ve battled all year,” Skinner said. “He’s been playing real well.”
But so is Skinner, who won $9,600 earlier this year for finishing tied for 35th in the season’s second Champions Tour major, the Senior PGA in St. Louis. And when he made the turn to the back nine Tuesday, he found himself needing to make up three shots on Stevens. On the 10th hole, Skinner posted a birdie and moved one shot closer.
Two holes later, they were tied.
“On 13, I made birdie, coupled with his bogey, and it evened us up,” he said. “Then on No. 14, I took the lead with a birdie.”
His save on No. 15, however, rivaled Skinner’s moment on national television earlier this year when he made ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day for his amazing approach shot at the Senior PGA that found the bottom of the cup. Skinner’s approach Tuesday at No. 15 rolled into a rut off the green some 50 feet from the hole, and when he asked a rules official for relief, he was denied.
“He told me the rut wasn’t deep enough to qualify for relief, so I had to play it as it,” Skinner recalled. “So I didn’t have much of a choice but to putt from there. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t make it.”
Skinner said the shot at the Senior PGA in St. Louis was more memorable only because of the stage it was on, but his shot on No. 15 in Roswell was right up there with some of the best of his career.
“It was a smaller stage, yes, but the impact it had on my round was huge,” he said. “I had all the momentum there, plus it kept (my bogey-free streak in the) round alive.”
Skinner’s final tournament of the year in Georgia — next month in Augusta — will decide the Georgia POY. Skinner currently leads Stevens by 28.5 points, although a Top 5 finish or better by Stevens and an off day by Skinner could put his Player of the Year streak in jeopardy.
Skinner’s not worried. He’s just having fun — and letting the cards fall where they may.
“I’m just thankful, at my age, for the opportunity to still be able to compete at this level,” he said.