PGA

Frank Bensel Jr. leads PGA Professionals tournament at PGA Golf Club

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Few PGA Professionals have won more tournaments at PGA Golf Club than Frank Bensel Jr.

a group of people in front of a house: PGA Professional Championship © Provided by Golfweek PGA Professional Championship

It was no surprise, then, when Bensel shot a 6-under 65 Sunday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Professional Championship. Bensel had seven birdies and a bogey on the Ryder Course to take a two-shot lead over defending champion Alex Beach and three others.

“I’ve had a lot of success on both courses that we’re playing,” said Bensel, a Jupiter resident who is a PGA Teaching Professional at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York. “There’s a good familiarity of where to be. It’s kind of like a home game for me, as it is for a lot of people.”

Playing in the day’s first group, Bensel missed only one fairway and three greens and birdied all four par-5s. His only blemish was a bogey at the par-3 seventh.

“I hit the ball close and made a few putts,” Bensel said. “It was nice to get off to an early start before the wind picked up.”

The top 20 finishers (no ties) after Wednesday’s final round earn spots in next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Beach has been the reigning champion for two years – last year’s PPC was canceled because of COVID-19 – and he showed he’s not ready to give up the title easily. Beach had four consecutive birdies in the middle of his round to shoot 67 on the Ryder.

a man playing golf: Frank Bensel Jr. © Provided by Golfweek Frank Bensel Jr.

Frank Bensel Jr. reads his putt on the ninth hole of the Ryder Course during the first round for the 54th PGA Professional Championship held at PGA Golf Club on Sunday. (Photo: PGA of America)

“Hopefully, I can hold to it as long as I can,” said Beach, a PGA Teaching Professional at Westchester Country Club in New York. “It didn’t feel like two years with all that’s been going on. Life got put in perspective pretty quickly.

“I wasn’t quite used to the greens early on, so it was nice to string a few birdies together. My only goal is to win, but getting (to the PGA) is a really nice achievement.”

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a man holding a baseball bat: PGA: RBC Heritage - First Round

Beach is tied for second place at 67 with longtime PGA Tour veteran Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas; Ben Polland of Bloomington, Minnesota; and Tim Pearce of Birmingham, Michigan. The top five finishers all played the par-71 Ryder Course (the par-72 Wanamaker course also is being used).

Uresti eagled the par-5 13th with a chip-in and had four birdies to go along with two bogeys. Uresti won the 2017 PPC and has played in more than 400 PGA Tour events, 10 majors and four PGAs. Uresti and Bensel are both in their early 50s.

“I hit the ball pretty well, but I struggled with my putts over 8 feet,” Uresti said. “My putter got bent in transit and I haven’t been able to get the loft and lie the way I want it.”

Polland led the 2015 PPC with a hole to go, but double bogeyed the 18th and lost by a shot to Matt Dobyns. Pearce also eagled the 13th Sunday and added two birdies in his bogey-free round.

Bensel has qualified for two PGAs, in 2004 and 2012. Making a third at 53 would be a bonus.

“To play in a major is something you can keep forever,” Bensel said. “This tournament is the pinnacle of our season. It shows you the state of your game.”

Four players are tied for sixth at 3-under: 2013 PPC champ Rod Perry (68) of Port Orange, Danny Balin (68) of Lake Success, New York, Bern Kern (68) of Georgetown, Texas, Kyle Mendoza of Oceanside, California, who shot a 69 on the Wanamaker, and Mick Smith of Summit, Wisconsin.

A large group of golfers are tied for 11th place at 2-under: Gabe Reynolds (70) of Dallas; Rob Labritz (69) of Pound Ridge, New York; Marty Jertson (69) of Phoenix;Danny Lewis (70) of Deal, New Jersey; Matt Borchert (69) of Winter Garden, Florida; Ben Cook (69) of Vero Beach, Florida; Brad Merek (70) of Berkeley, California; Bob Sowards (69) of Dublin, Ohio; Jim Troy (69) of Strongsville, Ohio; Mark Geddes of Coranado, California; Kent St. Charles (69) of Wells, Maine; and Cody Haughton (69) of Canton, Michigan.

Count ’em: Three aces

Three players – Rich Berberian Jr., Fred Sutton and Jason Caron – made a hole-in-one Sunday. Berberian, who won the 2016 PPC and was the 2017 PGA Professional of the Year, aced No. 12 of the Ryder Course with a 9-iron from 166 yards. Berberian, hoping to extend his streak of qualifying for five consecutive PGAs, shot 2-over 73.

Sutton and Caron each aced the sixth hole on the Wanamaker Course from 180 yards. Sutton used a 7-iron, Caron a 6-iron.

The 312-player field will be cut to low 90 and ties after Monday’s second round and low 70 and ties following Tuesday’s third round.

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