By Bob Denney and Randy Stutzman, The PGA of America
SUNRIVER, Ore. - Rod Perry picked up the 2012 PGA Professional Player of the Year Award Friday night in front of his peers, then spent Sunday proving why he deserved the accolades in the opening round of the 46th PGA Professional National Championship.
Perry, a 39-year-old PGA head professional at Crane Lakes Golf Course in Port Orange, Fla., fired a course-record tying 8-under-par 63 under light drizzle at the Meadows Golf Course at Sunriver Resort. Even with that sterling performance, he shared the first-round lead with Corey Prugh of Spokane, Wash., in the showcase event for PGA Professionals. Prugh, a PGA assistant professional at Manito Golf and Country Club, finished 10 minutes after Perry.
The twosome took advantage of their draw before rain picked up in the afternoon, and thrived on respective solid putting - needing 25 putts apiece - on the pristine greens of the 6,944-yard Meadows Course. Perry, a runner-up in last year's Championship, had 11 one-putts, while Prugh - who shared seventh place in 2012 - had nine.
Perry and Prugh broke the competitive course mark of 65, set by 2004 National Champion Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, in the second round of the 2007 PGA Professional National Championship.
The Meadows yielded a scoring barrage, with Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., coming in at 64 after rain subsided, while former Champions Tour caddie now PGA Life Member Rick Lewallen of Kannapolis, N.C., had a 65. Don Berry of Rogers, Minn., was next at 66, followed by Mike Barge of Chanhassen, Minn., and reigning Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., who each had 67.
Sunriver Resort is hosting its third PGA Professional National Championship, which is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA. The 312-player field will be trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties after Monday's round. The final 36 holes will be contested on Crosswater Club.
The Meadows yielded a scoring average of 72.9 while nearby Crosswater Club, playing at 7,479 yards, was at 76.1.
David Muttitt of Albuquerque, N.M.; Kirk Hanefeld of Acton, Mass.; and Stu Ingraham of Harrisburg, Pa., each had a 68. Three-time National Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., was in a group at 69, tied for the lowest score of the day at Crosswater. Small was joined by 2004 Champion Sowards, and 2007 Champion Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va.; who won his title at Crosswater. Defending Champion Matt Dobyns of Glen Head, N.Y., struggled home with a 76.
The opportunity to get off to a good start at the Meadows proved an incentive for anyone who could battle the elements.
"I knew I was on the lesser of the evils today, playing the Meadows Course," said Perry, whose last posted a 63 in a 2010 North Florida PGA Section event. "So, I knew I needed to get off to a good start, knowing that tomorrow was going to be more challenging and playing in the afternoon (at Crosswater Club), the wind was going to blow more and also playing the more difficult golf course.
"I just loved the golf course. It's in perfect condition and the greens were phenomenal. You can make some putts if you are lucky enough to hit it in there close. I was fortunate to do that today."
Perry missed only three greens and got what he called his big break of the round with his putter.
"I got away with one," he said. "I didn't get up and down (for birdie) from the greenside bunker on 10 (a 534-yard, par-5), and feeling like I had dropped half a shot. I knew the big guys are going to be hitting long irons in there, no problem. Then, I made about a 45-footer on 11that was moving pretty good. It just happened to hit center hole. That kept my round together. If that putt goes by four or five feet and I miss it, all of a sudden I've dropped a shot and half starting the back nine. I got a cookie out of the cookie jar without getting my hand slapped."
After three front-nine birdies at 2, 5 and 6, Perry's monster putt at 11 ignited a five-birdie run on the back nine by making putts at 12, 13, 14 and 17. His approach was short of the 18th green, from where he pitched from 15 yards to three feet and made his par putt.
Prugh, whose father, Steve, is the PGA head professional at Manito Golf and Country Club, has a younger brother, Alex, a member of the Web.com Tour. Prugh said that his performance Sunday stands out above several other premier efforts.
"I shot 61 in a pro-am last year at home, which isn't quite the same in terms of a competitive experience as this," said Prugh. "I played on a course with members that was only five minutes from my house. I shot a 66 and I was either leading or in second in the first round of second stage at Q-School last year. That was a good round to build off of. It was pretty similar to today."
Beginning his round on No. 10, Prugh went on a six-hole birdie run from the 13th through 18th holes to post a back-nine 30. He capped his round off with birdies at 3 and 6. He hit 15 greens, with his longest birdie putt a 35-footer on 16. He just missed two birdie attempts on 7 and 8 from less than 10 feet.
"The greens were perfect. Hats off to the grounds crew at both places," said Prugh. "It's just perfect. It's easy. The greens aren't too tricky to read and they're rolling at a perfect speed."
Prugh said that he gained experience from last year's National Championship.
"I have tons of nerves always," said Prugh. "Tiger said once, 'If you're not nervous, you don't care.' I'm always nervous. The experience was good as a confidence booster meaning that I didn't have to reinvent some sort of wheel to get as good as I believe I am, but as good as everybody else is."
Sorenson, 34, a PGA teaching professional at Columbia Golf Club in Minneapolis, Minn., bettered his career National Championship low round by one stroke. He opened with a 65 in 2011 at Hershey, Pa., and went on to finish tied for eighth.
"It was real important to get a low score here before heading over to Crosswater tomorrow because it plays completely different," said Sorenson. "Anything in the 60s out there is a great round, I think. Even 70 is a great round out there. "The good start at Hershey two years ago definitely helped me today along with playing in a lot of the winter stuff, the (PGA) Stroke Play, the (PGA) Winter Series - I had success in that so I know I can play nationally."
Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, tied for second in 2007 at Crosswater. On Sunday, he mixed five birdies and a pair of bogeys.
"I made some errors today and hit some wayward shots at times, but held it together for the most part," said Small, who has finished among the top eight in nine previous appearances. I was able to make some key putts in spots, which really helped."
The low 20 scorers earn a berth in the 95th PGA Championship, Aug. 8-11, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
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- Corey Prugh
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