VERONA, N.Y. — Rick Schuller has played in the PGA Professional Championship more than a dozen times dating back to the mid-1990s, so he knows many of the 312-player field that customarily compete in the biggest event offered for club and teaching professionals. This week, at the 49th PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone Resort, he undoubtedly has passed a lot of them on the leaderboard, too.
Having settled into a tie for 131st place after the first round on Sunday, the 53-year-old Schuller, the head professional at Swaders Sports Park in Prince George, Va., has since climbed into the top 10 with one round left to play. After a 4-under 68, tied for the low round of the day, in the third round on Tuesday at Atunyote Golf Club, Schuller is primed, at the very least, to earn his third spot in the PGA Championship — his first since 2003.
“In this event, with two cuts, you really can’t take a breath until you’ve made the second cut as far as prize money and bonus money and all that,” he said. “It’s a fact of life: You can’t fall asleep on day three. I felt comfortable once I got under par. Then I was focused on getting into the top 20; that’s a goal, but I still have work to do.”
The difference between Sunday’s 75 at Atunyote and Tuesday’s 68 wasn’t difficult to decipher.
“I made nothing the first day,” he said. “Putts were lipping out; it was kind of frustrating. I didn’t feel like I played that bad and just didn’t have anything go in. Today I didn’t make any long putts; I just hit the ball real close. It was a very comfortable round, but at the same time it’s a very challenging golf course. Even with two bogeys, I feel great.”
Through 54 holes, Schuller is at 3-under 213, tied for eighth. The top 20 after the final round on Wednesday earn places at next month’s PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
“I’m kind of surprised,” said Schuller, who’s made the cut in each of the last two Senior PGA Championships. “I wasn’t peaking coming into this. I had kind of a sloppy first round, but I found something yesterday. Today I was 5 under through 12, then the wind picked up and it was really tough out there. I made two bad swings on consecutive holes, but it could have been a lot worse; I could have made doubles there.”
Back-to-back bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes dropped Schuller out of the top six, but he’s comfortable heading into Wednesday’s finale and all that it has to offer. It was especially satisfying to birdie the par-5 18th from a front bunker.
“I hit a pretty good tee ball,” he said. “I took a pretty aggressive line, and then my wife (and caddie) was saying, ‘Just play smart, just play smart.’
But I said, ‘I’m going to rip it up there.’ I didn’t think that front left bunker would be too bad, but making that 6- or 7-footer coming back was great. You hate to feel deflated when you’ve played a good round and you hate to lose it all on one hole.”
Schuller doesn’t hide the fact that, at age 53, making the PGA Championship would be incredibly satisfying.
“I still hit it far enough where I think it’s not a big disadvantage,” he said before adding that “every day” he feels the effects of senior aches and pains.
Every day you take an inventory of what hurts and why does it hurt. My range of mobility, flexibility, isn’t what it used to be. I’ve had multiple surgeries, but knock on wood, I feel good right now.”
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At the top of the leaderboard, former PGA Tour player Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas, shot a 2-under 70 to extend his lead to two strokes.
Uresti, 47, has a 54-hole score of 11-under 205, with 49-year-old Mark Brown of Oyster Bay, N.Y., in second place after a 3-under 69. Ryan Helminen (72) of Menasha, Wis., and Rich Berberian (71) of Derry, N.H., share third place at 8-under 208, three strokes back. The top five is completed with 2013 champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., and Dakun Chang of Long Grove, Ill., five shots behind at 6-under 210.
“I guess I was a little tight or something,” said Uresti. “The swing wasn’t quite there with the driver. I hit a lot of good putts but only made a couple. It was a good day overall; I kept it in play and got it up and down when I had to. I was very happy with the way the round ended up.”