Philo finds time to lead PGA Professional Championship

PGA of America

Philo finds time to lead PGA Professional Championship

Professional

Philo finds time to lead PGA Professional Championship

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BLUFFTON, S.C. — It was quite the balancing act by Ron Philo Jr.

Trying to prepare for the 52nd PGA Professional Championship and at the same time handle his responsibilities as head professional at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., some three hours away, he did both.

He left Belfair after some practice on Friday, drove home to oversee the final day of his club’s member-member tournament — and squeeze in a lesson — then drove back, though not in time to make the Champions Dinner on Saturday night.

For his opening round of the PGA Professional Championship on Sunday, his 6-under-par 66 on Belfair’s West Course gave him the 18-hole lead.

SCORES: PGA Professional Championship

Alex Beach of Rye, N.Y., was 5-under par, also on the West. Pennsylvania’s Alex Knoll and 2013 champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., were tied for third at 4-under par. Knoll shot 67 on the par-71 East Course; Perry had 68 on the par-72 West.

Philo, 53, won in 2006, the last of his four straight top-5 finishes at the PGA Professional Championship. On Sunday, he was 1-under par through the first six holes, then birdied four of his next five, highlighted by a 45-foot putt that fell at the par-3 eighth.

“I feel so comfortable here,” said Philo, “because this is so much like home. We’re on a marsh. We’re next to the ocean. The wind blows.”

Knoll, 34, is the new head professional at Blue Shamrock Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pa., having assumed that position less than two months ago. Last week, in his first PGA Section event of the season, he shot 64, and with a total of just three rounds he’s been able to play at home to prepare for the biggest event of the year for club and teaching professionals, his 67 on Sunday was strong.

“I have no idea where this golf game is coming from right now,” said Knoll, playing in his fourth PGA Professional Championship. “Hopefully, I can ride this wave a little bit longer.”

Knoll’s opening round was impressive considering it came on the East 18, the more difficult of Belfair’s two courses. The East played more than 5.5 strokes over par, nearly two shots higher against par than the par-72 West.

“It was just a real test out there,” said Knoll. “We got lucky, playing in the morning, and I think it’s only going to get more firm out there, windier, as the day goes on. I’m just really happy with the round. I putted extremely well.”

Each of the top-20 finishers at Belfair earns a place at next month’s PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Of the four women in the field, all of whom played the East Course, Joanna Coe of Baltimore, Md., led the way with an even-par 71. Ashley Grier of Springfield, Pa., was at 2-over 73, Alexandra Braga of Denver, Colo., had 80 and Sherry Andonian of Centennial, Colo., shot 83.

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