By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
TOWN & COUNTRY, Mo. - Mark Mielke of East Norwich, N.Y., deflected a near-disastrous trip around Bellerive Country Club Sunday with three back-nine birdies, including a five-footer on the 72nd hole, to clinch a share of Low PGA Club Professional honors in the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
[Video: Click here to see the trophy presentation for Coston and Mielke.]
Mielke and Jeff Coston of Blaine, Wash., became the first dual Low PGA Club Professional honorees since the Senior PGA Championship began recognizing the feat with a crystal bowl in 2005.
Mielke, the 50-year-old PGA head professional at Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, N.Y., made his first appearance in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf. He finished with a 1-over-par 73 and even-par 284 total to tie Coston, who struggled with four back-nine bogeys for a closing 72. They tied for 28th place, tops among a 42-player PGA club professional delegation in the Championship.
Don Berry of Rogers, Minn., rallied with a 71 and Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., finished with a 74 to each finish at 285, while Bob Gaus of St. Louis, who had a 73 and 290 total, rounded out the five PGA club professionals who made the weekend.
"It's awesome, it really is," said Mielke. "Just to make the cut here and be here on the weekend was an incredible experience. Let alone to birdie 18 was just awesome!"
Mielke overcame a triple-bogey 7 on the 10th hole - a hole where he was 6 over par for the week - by, making birdies on Nos. 11, 14 and 18. Mielke said that he knew he had a chance for the Low PGA Club Professional by a communication channel between his wife, Leigh and his caddie, former PGA apprentice professional Will Thursby.
"I had a bad experience on 10 with a triple there. That kind of took me out of it. I just said, 'Keep hanging in, and try to make a birdie or two," Mielke added. "I knew I had to birdie 18 for the tie. I hit a great shot in there to about six feet and I don't remember hitting the putt. I just knew that I had to make it."
Thursby appeared as proud as the man who hired him for hauling his clubs around Bellerive.
"The man has got as much courage for a golfer as I could imagine," said Thursby of Mineola, N.Y. "After making a 7 on No. 10, a hole that has beaten us up all week, he held it together and we made some birdies coming in and here we are."
It was a bittersweet ending for Coston, 57, the PGA teaching professional at Semiahmoo Golf Resort. He was sailing along at 3 under par on the front side, and then struggled home. He bogeyed 13, 15, 17 and three-putted 18. It left him with his second Low PGA Club Professional honor since 2007.
"I was riding the wave there, man, like Switchfoot for a while," said Coston. "And that was good fun. And golf is weird. And weird people play it and I'm glad I'm one of them. But some things happened and boom! It can happen to anybody. At least that's what they tell me."
Mielke's playing partner, Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., made his bid for the honorary crystal before bogeys at 13, 14 and 16 derailed his chances. He birdied 17 to get within one stroke of Mielke and Coston. Skinner nearly holed his greenside bunker shot on 18 for a birdie.
"I really didn't have it today," said Skinner, the reigning Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year. "I hit the ball decent early, couldn't make a putt. I kept trying to scramble, but then began three-putting. I finished nicely after hitting a terrible tee shot on 17 to make birdie. I played 18 pretty good, but not good enough. The guys that tied today (Coston and Mielke) are extremely good friends of mine and I'm happy for them."
Berry, the PGA head professional at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park, Minn., came away from his debut with special memories.
"I kind of struggled with the putter, but I have nothing but good feelings about the day," said Berry. "It is just a great golf course and getting a chance to play with all these great players. Shoot, on Monday I came out and played a practice round with Tom Kite and Andy North. I never played with two U.S. Open Champions before. So, just seeing these guys and watching them - how they play and stuff - that was really fun for me."
For Bob Gaus, a PGA teaching professional at Tower Tee Golf Center in St. Louis, his debut in the Championship was a positive experience regardless of his final score.
"I can take away the fact that I can compete out here probably in some way or another," said Gaus. I know that I can compete with them. It's getting the experience. I felt more and more comfortable every day that I was out here. I missed a couple short putts. I got a little nervous, but who doesn't?"
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- Jeff Coston
- Senior PGA Championship