Mid-tourney tune-up puts Steve Sharpe over the top at Golfweek Senior POY Classic

Even as he was doing it, Steve Sharpe thought, I’ve got to be crazy. Nobody takes a swing lesson in the middle of a tournament and comes out with a win, right?

But Sharpe, who turns 67 later this week, couldn’t resist the opportunity to have Sean Hogan at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at the Omni Orlando (Florida) Resort at ChampionsGate look over his swing. So after a first-round 74 at ChampionsGate for the Golfweek Senior POY Classic, Sharpe made an appointment with Hogan. The next day, he shot a 1-under 71 – one of only eight rounds under par all week in the tournament’s four divisions – and took the lead in the super senior division. He bookended that round with another 74 on Thursday and walked away with the division title. He was 3 over for 72 holes and four shots ahead of Doug Harris from Vero Beach, Florida.

“I wasn’t turning enough in my backswing,” Sharpe said. “I was kind of lifting it with my arms. I’ve been knowing it forever but I didn’t know how to fix it. I just put it right in play and it was shaky a couple holes but overall, my ballstriking really got a lot better there.”

Scores: Golfweek POY Classic

Sharpe drove home to Greensboro, North Carolina, the next day where he works in construction for P&S Grading LLC, after playing four January senior events. He won the Plantation Senior Invitational, was runner-up at the Gateway Senior Invitational, finished fifth at the Heron Creek Senior and won again at the POY Classic.

When work is slow in the winter, Sharpe likes to go south and load up on tournaments. He’ll play more local events and Carolinas Golf Association events the rest of the year.

Sharpe has made seven career U.S. Golf Association starts, most recently at the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur. He played the U.S. Mid-Amateur twice and qualified for the U.S. Senior Open in 2007 and 2009.

Remarkably, Sharpe didn’t begin playing golf until he was 30. Once he started, he found that he loved the individual nature of the sport and loved to compete, so he started working more and more at his game.

“Keeps me busy,” he said.

Sharpe is still sorting out the nuances of competitive golf, notably the pressure that comes with the lead. Starting on the back nine in his final round, Sharpe birdied the first hole. Then he could feel that pressure closing in on him. He played Nos. 5-7 in 4 over, but birdied No. 8 to seal the deal.

“When I’m up around the lead, I just try to control myself,” he said. “I know I can do it if I don’t get too emotional.”

All four divisions featured tightly grouped leaderboards, but the senior division was perhaps the closest race – especially early week. Matthew Avril of Vero Beach, Florida, took a share of the lead in the second round and won by three shots on the strength of a final-round 2-under 70. Despite its difficulty, he played the back nine in 2 under the final day.

“I made my only bogey of the day unfortunately on 7 but I bounced back, made birdie on 8 and parred 9 and so I knew with a good solid even par, again with the conditions, if I could play solid on the back, somebody was going to have to do something pretty good to do it,” Avril said. “So it was in my hands. But that back nine has a stretch there from 13 to 16 that is really tough.”

Matthew Avril, winner of the senior division of the Golfweek Senior POY Classic.
Matthew Avril, winner of the senior division of the Golfweek Senior POY Classic.

Matthew Avril, winner of the senior division of the Golfweek Senior POY Classic.

Avril was 1 over for 54 holes, which was three better than Rick Cloninger of Rockhill, South Carolina. Doug Hanzel of Savannah, Georgia, and Mike Lohner of Southlake, Texas, tied for third another shot back.

The key to his win, Avril thought, was a birdie on the long par-3 14th, which played 195 yards. He pulled driver there in the second round but used a hybrid on Thursday and stuck it to 20 feet for the birdie.

On No. 16, a par 4, Avril hit it to 4 feet from a downhill lie in a back bunker and made par.

Avril noted that each day of the tournament had its own set of challenges, from wind and cold temperatures to saturated conditions from an early-week rain to a rye grass overseed that allowed for little roll.

Avril is not a particularly long player, but he makes up for it in accuracy.

“The goal is always to hit fairways and greens and I put the ball in play, which is really the strength of my game,” he said. “I hit 41 out of 42 fairways over the three days, and so I got off to a good start.”

Avril hasn’t competed as much in the past year, but he did win the Florida Senior Azalea in 2023.

“I’ve got a full slate coming this year,” he said. “Really looking forward to playing as much golf as my body will let me. All of us get a little beat up at this age.”

Bev Hargraves of Little Rock, Arkansas, won the legends division at 5 over.

Notably, in the super legends division, Frank Costanzo of Savannah, Georgia had the round of week – a final-round 68 that included six birdies – and won his division by six shots over John Osborne of Vero Beach, Florida.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek