PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Stan Cooke shot a 7-under 65 in windy conditions Tuesday to take the first-round lead in the Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
The 53-year-old Cooke, the PGA general manager and director of golf at Ocala (Fla.) National, played the last 10 holes in 7 under on PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course. He eagled the par-5 16th, hitting a hybrid to 15 feet, and closed with a birdie.
“I lit up the back nine and I managed the course well,” Cooke said. “I hit a few wayward shots that I got away with. Then, the putter started clicking and I got out of the way of myself.”
Originally scheduled for October at Creighton Farms in Virginia, the event was postponed because of rain and flooding.
“It was a long time coming,” Cooke said. “I don’t believe much in practicing on the range. I try to play my way into being able to hit shots. So, every other day, I schedule 18 holes late in the day somewhere in Ocala trying to see different courses and different shots and visualize those shots.”
The top 35 in the 264-man field will earn spots in the Senior PGA Championship on May 22-25 at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich. The low 70 and ties after the second round will play the final two rounds on the Wanamaker Course.
Frank Esposito and Rob Gibbons were two strokes back at 67. The 50-year-old Esposito, the PGA head professional at Brooklake in Florham Park, N.J., played the Ryder Course. The 57-year-old Gibbons, the PGA head pro at Arrowhead in Molalla, Ore., opened on the Wanamaker.
“It was a little windy and there were some tough pins,” Esposito said. “I have played so many times here in the winter that I get used to it. This is normal for Florida. It was firm and fast. I seem to play well on this golf course for some reason.”
Championship rookie Todd McCorkle of Birmingham, Ala., was at 68 along with Gene Fieger of Naples, Fla.; Carl Cooper of Humble, Texas; and Doug Rohrbaugh of Carbondale, Colo. McCorkle and Rohrbaugh played the Wanamaker, and Fieger and Carl Cooper opened on the Ryder.
Rod Nuckolls of Wichita, Kan., had a 69 on the Wanamaker, playing the last four holes in 5 under. He holed out from 67 yards on No. 16 and made three birdies.
Defending Champion Jim Woodward of Edmond, Okla., opened with a 77 on the Ryder.