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Steve Schneiter Makes History, Captures Senior PGA Professional Championship Title
By Bob Denney, PGA of America
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Steve Schneiter had something come over him, he said, which carried him to a piece of PGA of America history Sunday at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Facing a must-make 15-foot left-to-right downhill par putt on the 18th green, Schneiter surveyed his task, stepped up and rolled the ball home, accentuated by a large fist pump.
The final-hole dramatics lifted the 53-year-old Assistant PGA Professional from Sandy, Utah, to a 3-under-par 69 and 13-under-par 275 total. It was enough for a one-stroke triumph over Rick Schuller of Chester, Virginia, in the 28th Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Golf Advisor and Mercedes-Benz USA.
Schneiter, the only player to complete the week with four sub-70 rounds, earned $21,500 from a $300,000 purse. With his victory, he became the first PGA Member to claim both a PGA Professional Championship (1995) and a Senior PGA Professional Championship.
Schuller posted a bogey-free 68 and 276 total, finishing a half-hour ahead of Schneiter. Gene Fieger of Naples, Florida, the 2013 Champion and 54-hole leader, had the last chance to catch Schneiter and force a playoff. But, he three-putted the 18th green from 35 feet for a bogey to end at 74 and alone in third at 277.
“I don’t know what it was, but something came over me,” said Schneiter, whose eyes filled with tears at the award ceremony as he both described his final putt and mentioned his late father and grandfather, both PGA Professionals.
“This one’s for you both,” he said looking skyward.
Schneiter began the day trailing Fieger by three strokes, but erased the margin in a matter of three holes with a birdie-eagle-birdie start.
“I felt something was guiding me,” said Schneiter, an Assistant PGA Professional at Schneiter’s Pebblebrook in Sandy, Utah.
He holed out for eagle from 115 yards on the 423-yard, par-4 second hole with a sand wedge. He cooled off with a bogey at the fifth and seventh holes, the latter when his tee shot drew mud covering half the ball.
Schneiter separated himself from his challengers and took the lead for good with a birdie at the par-3 11th hole, hitting an 8-iron to 15 feet. He pushed his margin to two strokes by making a birdie at No. 15.
Just when it appeared the Schneiter could cruise home, he three-putted the par-5 16th hole to cut his margin to a stroke.
“I know I end up scrambling and somehow do OK, but I don’t like it,” said Schneiter. “I guess I’m just destined to make it interesting.” Schneiter carried a one-stroke margin to the 18th fairway, hitting a 7-iron from 163 yards, and blocking it right. His ball came to rest just below the right portion of the green and on the hazard line. Schneiter chipped up to 15 feet above the hole.
“I stopped for a moment, and felt something come over me,” said Schneiter. “I just stroked it. When I hit it, and I saw it going, I thought, ‘that’s in the hole.’ I had no expectations coming here this this week. I had not played a competitive round in over a month and only played 18 holes in mid-October with my boys.”
It was a valiant effort by Schuller, the 2009 PGA Professional Player of the Year, and a PGA Teaching Professional at Stonehenge Golf and Country Club in Richmond, Virginia.
“The main goal today was to make pars and not lose two shots on any hole, which could jeopardize my chances to make the Senior PGA Championship,” explained Schuller, the 2014 runner-up. “I birdied the first hole, which calmed my nerves a bit. Once I noticed the scores, I tried to remain patient. I made some clutch putts coming in. I’m really proud of the way I played today, I hung in there.”
As he has the past two years, Schuller will be part of the group of 35 that play in the 78th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.
“I know how fun and exciting that event is. It’s going to be hosted in our section (Middle Atlantic) this year at Trump National,” he said. “We ended up having five guys make it into the event, which is a testament to how great our Section is.”
For Fieger, who had grinded his way to a two-stroke lead after 54 holes, he could never find his rhythm Sunday. He saw any momentum stall with a double bogey on the 11th hole.
“I just didn’t play well today,” he said. “I got a couple bad breaks in bunkers on par-5s. Nothing really happened. I hit a terrible 9-iron into the hazard on 11 and that put me 3-over on the day. It was a good week but I just didn’t have it today. And that’s what happens: When you don’t play well, you don’t win.”
The low 35 scorers earned a berth in the 78th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 25-28, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club-Washington D.C., in Potomac Falls, Virginia.