The first round of the 98th Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship got underway early on Tuesday, September 17. The three-day, 54-hole championship will be held at host facility Union League Golf Club at Torresdale as well as secondary facility Riverton Country Club.
The Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship is one of the premier events on the Philadelphia PGA calendar. At stake this week is the Section’s top prize the William B. Packer trophy, awarded to the Championship’s top finisher. Additionally, Professionals are competing for one of 11 spots into next year’s 53rd PGA Professional Championship to be held at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas April 26-29, 2020.
For much of the day it looked as though the two courses would be the story of the Championship’s opening round. For much of the afternoon the best score posted at the Union League was even par (70). While scores at Riverton Country Club were slightly lower, the best number posted on day one was from a trio of players who finished at 3-under (68).
However, playing in the last group of the day at Union League, Alex Knoll (Glen Brook Golf Club) was about to embark on a record setting day. After making a par on his opening hole, Knoll birdied the short par-4 second hole. After a par on the third hole, Knoll found his second birdie of the day on the par-3 fourth hole.
“The course played tough today,” commented Knoll on his opening round. “I know it sounds cliché, but I tried to just play one shot at a time. I wanted to keep the ball below the hole to give myself a chance at birdie.”
After a string of pars to close out his outward nine, Knoll really got his round going on the back nine. Opening with an eagle on the par-5 tenth hole, Knoll then made par on the long par-3 eleventh hole. After consecutive birdies on holes 12 and 13, Knoll parred the par-3 14th hole and was sitting at 6-under as he got set to play par-4 15h hole.
“I knew I had something special going today,” said Knoll. “I tried to use my experience from last year’s PGA Professional Championship to calm my nerves.”
Once again Knoll posted consecutive birdies on the back nine after finding red figures on holes 15 and 16 and was now 8-under, five shots ahead of his closest competitor and eight shots better than those players playing Union League in round one.
After a bogey on the par-3 17th hole, his only blemish of the day, Knoll quickly righted the ship and found the fairway with his tee shot on the closing hole. After his approach shot found the green, Knoll and a 20’ putt for birdie and an opening round 62. Like his did for most of the day, Knoll confidently stepped over his putt and drained one more birdie, his seventh of the day.
“This is by far my lowest competitive round,” said Knoll of his 62. “I have gone low in a couple Pro-Ams but nothing like this.
Not only does Knoll’s 8-under (62) put him in great position after the Championship’s opening round, it also places him in Union League Golf Club history. Knoll’s 8-under round set the competitive course record at Union League, a mark previously held by the legendary Sam Snead who had posted a (64) in the Henry Hearst Invitational held in 1941.
“It will be a cool story to tell, saying I broke a course record once held by Sam Snead,” said Knoll. “However, my goal is still the same, to qualify for the PGA Professional Championship. There is still 36-holes to play and I can’t’ let myself get to think too far ahead.”
Knoll heads into the Championship’s second round with a five-shot lead over past champions Rich Steinmetz (Spring Ford Country Club) and Stu Ingraham (M Golf Range) as well as Dave Fields. All players will now switch courses for the Championship’s second round. At the end of round two, the field will be cut to the low 60 players and ties who will return to the Union League Golf Club at Torresdale on Thursday for the third and final round.
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