Bob Sowards fights back, Paul Stankowski hangs in, and the PGA Pro division at the KitchenAid Senior PGA is one hot contest
TULSA, Okla. – Bob Sowards had a simple goal coming into the week at the 81st KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. He has a daughter headed off to college in a few months, and he’d love to earn enough to cover a couple years of tuition.
Sowards, 52, a Teaching Professional at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club in Powell, Ohio, is one of the finest competitive PGA Professionals in the land, and has been for a long time. A player doesn’t fake his way into 11 PGA Championships, one off the all-time record for PGA Professionals. On Saturday, with strong winds swirling at a demanding Southern Hills layout, Sowards rebounded from a second-round 75 by shooting one of the day’s top rounds, an even-par 70. In doing so, Sowards climbed from T-18 into the top 10, tying for 10th. He has a big Sunday ahead. Play well, and he can cover a not only tuition, but some room and board, too.
Nine PGA Professionals made the cut at Southern Hills mid-Saturday morning, the largest number in five years. Sowards and Paul Stankowski, a PGA Life Member, are the two front-runners in the battle for Low PGA Professional. Sowards stands at 2-over 212 through three rounds, one shot better than Stankowski, who shot 73.
“I mean, my caddie's got me trying to stick to one shot at a time,” Sowards said. “I’m just going to try to play the best I can. I'll look at the leaderboards, just because I'm a leaderboard guy. But I'm not real concerned how I finish, I just want to play well and see where I stack up.”
Sowards was ahead of the entire 156-player field one day earlier through 31 holes. Then he started to encounter some difficulties, mostly with some errant drives and his bunker play. He made double bogeys on three of his last four holes.
On Saturday, though, Sowards was back to playing solidly. He had a great day driving the golf ball, which is one of his strengths. He made birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 to help offset two early bogeys. At the par-4 12th, he bombed a drive and hit a “chippy wedge” to 18 feet. Birdie. At the par-17th, where the tee was moved forward to 289 yards, he knocked a tee shot into a greenside bunker and blasted out to 18 inches.
“Got up and down 2-for-2 out of the bunkers, so a little better than yesterday,” Sowards said. “I played solid. I hit a lot of fairways. I kept it out of the rough, which did me in yesterday, giving away so many shots. Pretty pleased with even.”
The next closest PGA Professionals to Sowards and Stankowski are Alan Morin and Craig Bowden, who each shot 72 Saturday and are at 9-over 219. Morin is a 10-time South Florida Section PGA Professional of the Year. Bowden played the PGA Tour for a bit, and is representing the Indiana Section.
Stankowski, 51, from Flower Mound, Texas, is competing at his first senior major. He played the PGA Tour pretty steadily from 1994-2011, earning more than $7.3 million, but after a few injuries he opted to spend more time at home with his wife and two children, and in private business. He started his own leather goods business, does some radio broadcasts for PGA Tour radio, and works as an ambassador for a golf company that takes its members on golf trips. Competitively, he hadn’t played and walked 54 holes since early in the year, when he played two PGA Tour Champions tournaments. At home, he plays out of a cart.
He didn’t really know what to expect this week, but know this: The inner competitor that lives on in Stankowski did not like the taste of three consecutive bogeys coming in, starting at the 15th hole.
“First day, I made a couple mental mistakes, just wrong clubs, went against my game plan and I know better than that,” Stankowski said. “The last two days I really stuck to my game plan, which is great. So I'm encouraged by that. Disappointed really with the way I struck the ball today. My misses, I mentioned yesterday, I missed in the right spots off the tee …all in all, I’m pleased. We’re having a blast.”
The “we” includes his 21-year-old son, Joshua, who is on the bag this week. Father and son had a fun moment at the par-3 14th hole on Saturday. Dad hit his tee shot into a greenside bunker, and as he went to hit his shot, a vehicle driving down nearby 61st Street in Tulsa leaned on its horn a few times, and yelled, “Noonan,” a Caddyshack reference. Stankowski remained pretty oblivious to it. He holed the bunker shot for birdie, one of three he had on the day.
“He (Josh) thought I was going to stop,” said Stankowski, who won twice on the PGA Tour (1996 AT&T Classic, 1997 Sony Open). “He says, ‘I can’t believe you actually hit it.’ So that’s a fun memory we’re going to have.”
Sowards played in the 2019 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, two years ago at Oak Hill, and tied for 21st. (No event was staged in 2020 due to COVID-19.) This time, he wants more.
“Hopefully, I can beat that and make a couple birdies and move up the leaderboard,” Sowards said.
And maybe pay for a few more books. College isn’t cheap.