Tracy Phillips was heartbroken when a rough finish at last month’s PGA Professional Championship in Austin, Texas cost him his shot at playing in the 104th PGA Championship in his home state of Oklahoma, at Southern Hills.
That was crushing. It could have been the opportunity of a lifetime, and at 59, he missed out. Looking back, it might have been a huge blessing. The PGA Director of Instruction at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where his late father Buddy was the Head Professional for 40 years, Phillips arrived to this week’s KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship fresh, and focused, and ready to compete. And boy did he compete.
On Sunday, playing alongside Hall of Famer Ernie Els for the second consecutive day, Phillips shot 1-over 72, finishing 72 holes and earning a crystal bowl as the low Senior PGA Club Professional at 5-under 279.
“I had a lot of confidence with what I was doing, and what can I say, this was a great, great week for me,” said Phillips, who shot rounds of 69-68-70-72. “I had a blast. Played with some great guys, Ernie Els today and yesterday. And I mean, it was really a dream come true, really a fantastic week.”
Seven of the original 39 PGA Professionals from the field made it to the weekend at Harbor Shores. PGA Professional Paul Claxton, winner of the Senior PPC last fall, shot a closing 1-under 70 and tied for 39th at 1-over 285, one shot better than his Georgia Section counterpart, PGA Instructor Tim Weinhart (72).
Omar Uresti (70-287) of Texas, North Carolina’s Neal Lancaster (72-293), Oklahoma City’s Tim Fleming (77-293) and Ohio’s Bob Sowards (75-295) rounded out the group of seven PGA Professionals who made the cut and played 72 holes at Harbor Shores.
Forty-two years ago, Phillips captured the Junior PGA Championship on his way to becoming the No. 1 junior in the entire nation. He played for two seasons at Oklahoma State, struggled with his driving, left school after two years, tried playing professional golf internationally, and simply fell out of love with the game. He would instruct others on short game at Cedar Ridge, but on Mondays, when the course was closed and he was free to play, he would go bass fishing. Phillips did not play golf for about 20 years.
Tracy Phillips, PGA and his family.
At Harbor Shores, where Phillips made an all-world up-and-down on the seventh hole from next to a parking lot on Saturday – Els told him Seve Ballesteros would be proud of the effort – Phillips tied for 17th place, narrowly missing the top 15 finish that he needed to earn a spot into next May’s KitchenAid Senior Championship in Frisco, Texas.
That’s fine. Phillips can worry about that later. He was too busy enjoying his solid week’s effort on Sunday, as he received his bowl as Low Senior PGA Club Professional from PGA of America officers as the leaders headed down the final holes. Phillips rode some highs and lows on Sunday, making four birdies and five bogeys. He caught a bad break on his final bogey, as he had mud on his ball on his approach to the par-4 14th and the shot flew long and left.
“All in all,” he said, “I can’t complain. It was a dream-come-true week. I did a lot of things good.”
Phillips was able to share the week with his wife and college-bound daughter, as well as two retired professionals
A year ago, Sowards gave the PGA Professionals a huge lift when he tied for fifth place at Southern Hills. He said a good portion of his earnings ($106,000) would go to pay for his daughter’s freshman year at Arizona State. After his opening 68, he even pulled out an Arizona State ballmaker. “Most of money goes there, so I figured …” he said, his voice trailing off.
Phillips, who earned $50,000 for his performance, said he will do the same. The money will go to some college. The memories will be his to keep.