Finishing with flair, Ohio's Bob Sowards steps to the head of the PGA Professional class at the 81st KitchenAid Senior PGA
TULSA, Okla. – The men’s grill room at Kinsale Golf & Fitness Club back in Powell, Ohio, was bustling on Sunday afternoon. Members were off of the club’s fairways and glued to the 81st KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship telecast as their own Bob Sowards kept climbing his way up the Sunday leaderboard at Southern Hills Country Club.
“He makes us all proud, for sure,” said Nate Curtis, a PGA Assistant Professional at Kinsale, who was manning the pro shop. “I mean, that’s our Director of Instruction. Pretty cool.”
Starting his day tied for 10th, Sowards would close with flair on one of the toughest tests in major championship golf. Birdie at 11. Birdie at 15. Birdie at 17. And a magician-like up and down from a back bunker at 18 (“One of the best bunker shots of my life,” he called it) for a second-nine 32. On the last two holes, Sowards drained two clutch 15-footers. It all added up to 3-under 67, the perfect end to an amazing week for the 52-year-old Sowards, who just so happens to play the game as good as he teaches it.
Among the nine PGA Professionals who played 72 holes at Southern Hills, Sowards was the best, tying for fifth overall in the tournament, earning a crystal cup as Low Professional. (It was the best finish by a PGA Professional at the Senior PGA since Chris Starkjohann tied for fifth in 2009.) Former PGA Tour player Paul Stankowski, a PGA Life Member, shot 73 Sunday and tied for 23rd, and next after him was another PGA Life Member, Craig Bowden, who tied for 40th after his closing 70. Sowards was deservingly thrilled with his showing.
“Winning Low Club Pro was a goal,” said Sowards, who two years ago, in his Senior PGA debut, tied for 21st at Oak Hill. (There were 40 PGA Professionals in this week’s field at Southern Hills.) “Making the cut was the first goal. But if I play well, I just wanted to see how my game stacked up against these guys, so playing … I played against a lot of them throughout my career, and hopefully I can play more with them.”
Sowards’ birdie at 15 was a thing of beauty. The hole was cut top right on Saturday, and Sowards hit what he thought was a good approach that ended up trickling all the way back to the front left of the green. Front left was where the hole was cut on Sunday. Sowards hit a great drive, and had 125 yards in. Hmmm. “Let’s just hit the same shot as yesterday,” suggested his caddie, Kerry Baugher. Sowards did, and the ball finished tight.
“He was grinding it out, and was so solid all day,” Baugher said. “We made double on (No.) 7, but other than that, he never got ahead of himself.”
Sowards nearly didn’t travel to Southern Hills. Sunday marked graduation day for his daughter, Jordan, back home in Ohio. She will attend Arizona State in the fall. Family trumps golf, always, and Bob did not want to miss the ceremony. There would be other tournaments, he reasoned. His wife had a different thought.
“if you play well, you could pay for a year or two of college, so that was kind of the deciding factor,” Sowards said. “She rules the roost, and I just pretty much do what I'm told.”
These were two special weeks for the PGA Professionals who had starts in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and the KitchenAid PGA Senior at Southern Hills. Three players (Omar Uresti, Frank Bensel Jr., Stuart Smith) competed in both championships. At Kiawah, two PGA Professionals made the cut, and Ben Cook of Michigan was Low Professional. At Southern Hills, Sowards was one of nine PGA Professionals to make the cut, the most since 2016.
“To see Bob do that, that’s great playing,” said Alan Morin, a 10-time PGA Professional Player of the Year in the South Florida Section. Morin also played on the weekend in Tulsa.
“He’s a great player, no question. When I saw him leading the other day (Sowards led the tournament through 31 holes), I was like, ‘Go Bob, go!’ I was grinding to make the cut, and he was leading the tournament. It’s fantastic for us. It shows everybody that we can play, too.”
As far as his quest to cover some of his daughter’s upcoming college fees, Sowards made nice strides in that department. His tie for fifth paid $106,000.
“Tuition is expensive,” Sowards said, leaving with a well-earned smile.