ATLANTA, GA. - Sunnyside Black Rock Creek Club Pro Jeff Bender gutted out rounds of 72-74-76-73 to earn a tie for 70th place honors at the 2008 PGA Professional National Championship, staged over the course of the past four days at the famous Reynold's Plantation just outside Atlanta, Ga.
Bender earned one of the 310 berths to the national tourney at a qualifying event held in August 2007 at Cle Elum's Suncadia Resort. The championship event was open to the 28,000 PGA club pros working at or attached to golf courses throughout the nation.
This year's PGA Professional National Championship winner, Scott Hebert, led wire-to-wire. Representing Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, Mich., Hebert opened with a 5-under-par 67 and added rounds of 71-70-68 to tally a tourney-best, 12-under-par 276. One shot back at 11-under 277 was Sonny Skinner of River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga. (68-71-69-69).
Hebert earned a paycheck of $75,000, while Skinner netted a $50,000 payday.
After opening with an even-par round of 72 at Reynold's Plantation's Great Waters course last Thursday, Bender fired a 2-over-par 74 on Friday at the facility's second 18-hole course, Reynold's Landing. His two-day total of 2-over-par 146 put him exactly on the cut line, as only the golfers with the lowest 90 scores advanced to Saturday and Sunday's trophy round play.
After completing his round Friday, Bender had no idea if his two-day total would be good enough to move him on to the trophy round.
"I'm not a big follower of watching scores," he said, explaining he, his wife and father elected to go to a theater and watch the recently released movie, "Get Smart." A short time later a friend telephoned him and notified Bender that he had, indeed, slipped through and finished on the bubble cut line.
Saturday, back on the Great Waters course, Bender opened play on the back nine and absorbed bogeys on four of the first six holes.
"I got caught in a rain storm," he said, explaining he hadn't packed any rain gear for himself. He also didn't have an extra glove with him, which made the grips on his clubs a bit tricky to manipulate during that six-hole stretch.
Bender righted the ship, however, and closed out the final three holes of the opening nine by going birdie-par-par. He then moved on to the front nine and posted a clean, 1-over-par 37.
Sunday, again playing the Great Waters course, Bender shot a nifty, even-par 36 on the front nine. He closed out the back nine with a 1-over-par 37, thanks to one birdie and just two bogeys.
Despite a very effective, workmanlike 73 on Sunday, it was a case of what might have been for Bender the last day of the tourney.
"I missed seven birdie putts from 12 feet and in," he said.
On the plus side, he gave himself plenty of opportunities, thanks to missing few fairways and more often than not reaching the greens in regulation. "I'm striking the ball very well right now, but the putts aren't falling," he lamented, explaining his short game needs work. Bender said he plans on working with a flat stick specialist in the very near future.
Overall for the four-day national championship, Bender snared nine birdies along the way while parring 49 of the 72 holes. He ended up absorbing 12 bogeys, only sustaining two major hiccups, a pair of double-bogeys.
Money-wise, Bender earns a paycheck from the PGA championship tournament that will cover his traveling expenses to Georgia.
"I' m pretty happy with how everything worked out," Bender said, pleased that his second attempt to qualify for the national championship proved fruitful.
"Also, my staff here at Black Rock Creek did a phenomenal job while I was gone," he said. "I was able to walk in this morning (Monday) and hit the floor running."