SANTA ANA PUEBLO — For three days, Twin Warriors Golf Club succumbed to the whims of the senior PGA professionals as they absolutely had their way with the course.
The weather, though, conspired with the course Sunday in the finale of the Senior PGA Professional Championship tournament for those 50 and older.
Only one player — Kelly Mitchum of Southern Pines, North Carolina — managed to break par Sunday with a 2-under 70. Just three other players shot even par.
The remainder of the field who were vying for their share of a $318,000 total purse simply scrambled.
And Matt Schalk, of Erie, Colorado, turned out to be the top scrambler, winning the $26,000 first-place prize with an overall score of 10-under after carding a 3-over 75 Sunday. He finished at 278 to win by two shots over Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah.
“This is a challenging golf course without wind,” Schalk said. “Throw that into the mix with a little rain and it was a battle out there. Everybody was struggling. It’s the last man standing kind of thing.”
As far as locals, native New Mexican Cameron Doan shot a 3-over 74 to finish tied for third at 7-under. Brad Lardon of Santa Fe was 4-over on the day and 1-under for the event to tie for 13th. Jeff Roth out of Farmington was 9-over for the day and 3-over for the tournament to tie for 26th.
Albuquerque’s Steve Manning tied for 35th at 5-over, then was involved in a 6-man shootout as the top 35 finishers automatically qualify for a berth in next spring’s Senior PGA Championship in Frisco, Texas. David Arbuckle of Colorado Springs, Colorado, claimed the final spot with a birdie on the first playoff hole.
Schalk had no such worries as he birdied the par-5 12th hole while runner-up Schneiter bogeyed the same hole, creating a two-stroke swing. Schalk parred the next five holes to stave off any comeback attempts.
He did struggle early, however, with bogeys on three of the first six holes before coming to an uneasy truce with the conditions.
“I knew that there was going to be bogeys out there,” Schalk said. “I was trying not to make any doubles, honestly. On one par 5, I hit the green in two and thought, ‘Oh good, I can three putt for par.’ You had to get patient and not get down on yourself when you’re making bogeys because everyone else was, too.”
The wind affected both full shots and putts, Schalk said.
“You kind of have to laugh at yourself a little bit because one, you’re calculating the break — and the greens were absolutely fantastic, I putted so well all week long — but you had to calculate the wind. Sometimes you had an eight-footer and it would come up three feet short.”
It would even move the ball off its spot on the green.
“I was walking up to the ball on the green and it’s sitting there and all of sudden it rolls two feet, oh man, farther from the hole, of course,” he said, shaking his head. “The ball is moving around a little bit. I putt with a narrow stance so the wind is moving (me). It’s just hard to stay steady on that. It makes it a challenge.”
Schalk described the win as the biggest of his career.
“It kind of makes you think all that hard work really paid off,” he said. “To win and become a champion is just incredible. To beat a field of this many capable players is really awesome.”
The leader after Saturday’s round, Alan Sorenson of Bakersfield, California, shot 79 and fell into a third-place tie at 7-under 281. David Hronek of Port Charlotte, Florida, was tied with Schalk and Schneiter when Sunday’s round began, but ballooned to an 84 Sunday and tied for 13th.