By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer
ST. LOUIS -- PGA Club Professional Sonny Skinner surprised everyone, including himself, by firing a 4-under-par 67 Thursday to sit tied for third place after the first round of the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Skinner, who thanked The PGA of America for allowing its members the opportunity to qualify and play in a major championship, also made a point to express gratitude to a fellow PGA member.
Skinner explained that a great calming influence on the day was his caddie, Craig Bollman.
"On the second hole, after I hit an 8-iron 60 feet from the hole, I was like 'Man, I can't believe I didn't take that at the flag, why was I playing so conservative?'," explained Skinner. "He (Bollman) says, 'Come on, lots of golf shots left, we got a lot more opportunities to take it at the flag."
It was the type of invaluable encouragement and assurance - offered all day - that a veteran caddie gives any good player.
Only Bollman is not a veteran caddie. In fact, in his own words, he doesn't caddie much at all.
Bollman is a PGA teaching professional and member of the Gateway PGA Section, working at a St. Louis area GolfTec. Until recently, Bollman hadn't even heard of Skinner, and it was only this week when he saw Skinner actually hit a golf shot.
Though Skinner, the PGA head professional at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga., has had a distinguished playing career, he - like most club professionals - doesn't have a full-time caddie nor a big sponsor budget taking care of travel expenses. Through a mutual friend who learned of Skinner's needs, an introductory phone call was made to Bollman. Bollman generously volunteered to not only caddie for Skinner, but also host him at his house for the week.
Skinner, who was the Low PGA Club Professional at the 2011 Senior PGA Championship, doesn't need much help on yardages or reading greens - which is probably a good thing according to Bollman.
"I've maybe played at Bellerive 10 times ever," Bollman said, "and last Tuesday was the only time I've played it since the renovations a few years ago."
Instead, Bollman's greatest value on Thursday was offering the same positive encouragement he offers to students he teaches at his actual job. That support was consistent all day and was most evident on the sixth hole, Skinner's 15th hole of the opening round.
After pulling a long iron into the front left bunker, Skinner saw he had a plugged lie in the slope where he'd be standing a couple of feet above the ball. Skinner hit a good shot to not shank it into the water on the right, but his blast out still rolled over the green and down the slope on the other side. Skinner, who had played so well throughout the day, was now in danger of giving all those shots back on one hole.
Bollman made a point to remind Skinner that he had hit a good shot out of a tough spot and that he could still knock it in for a par or get up and down for a bogey - not a round-killer by any means. From 40 yards away, Skinner - who claims he hasn't been chipping the ball well as of late - managed to somehow knock it in and make a near-miraculous par.
The round was saved and momentum kept intact. Skinner, who admits he can sometimes get ahead of himself or overly critical of his own play, cruised in after that, making par on the final holes.
"If you can't mesh with Sonny, you can't mesh with anybody," Bollman said. "I would have offered to caddie for any fellow PGA Professional that asked, and I'd hope and believe that the same courtesy would be extended to me by another PGA member if I were in need. That's part of being a part of the PGA. But yes, being with such a great player is a real treat."
Still, Bollman admits that after one round, his expectations are being exceeded a bit. "I thought if he played well like I had heard he could, we had a really good chance to make the cut."
But to be tied for second after the first day? "No way," he laughed. "Who could have thought of this?"