Alex Knoll went into last year’s final round of the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship with a 5-stroke lead, but he had to hold on for dear life to win on what he called “probably the longest day of my professional life.”
This year, however, Knoll had no such problem. The head teaching professional at Glen Brook Golf Club in Stroudsburg played smooth and steady golf at Bent Creek Country Club in Lititz, Lancaster County, and fired a 1-under-par 70 to win his second straight title, this one by 3 strokes over Tom Cooper of Pine Valley.
Knoll, 35, finished 54 holes with a 10-under par total of 204 to claim the first prize of $9,500 from the $75,000 purse. He led a group of 11 qualifiers into the PGA Professional Championship next April and what he hopes will be a return trip to the PGA Championship.
His performance Wednesday, he said, showed that he’s starting to learn how to react in pressure situations.
“I really went back to the PGA Championship in August and the final round [of this tournament] last year where I felt a ton of pressure,” he said. "Your body’s physical motion, especially your lower body, shuts down when you feel pressure. Your arms start to swing and you become an inconsistent hitter.
“I really tried to tell myself to make sure I make my body move, allowing myself to hit straighter shots.”
Knoll, who lives in Jim Thorpe, Pa., began the day with a 2-stroke lead over Cooper. Birdies at Nos. 6 and 8 increased his lead to 4 and the advantage became 5 with a birdie at the 11th.
Cooper eagled the par-5 12th hole and with Knoll’s bogey at the 13th, it became a 2-shot spread. The Pine Valley assistant pro could get no closer, however, and finished with a 71 and a total of 207.
“It would be nice to win, but in the end, it’s just a qualifier,” Cooper said. “So I was trying to shoot anywhere from 2 under to 2 over and I knew that I’d be in good shape. Luckily I got even par, so I was definitely happy with the round.”
With tougher hole locations and more wind than the first two days, scores were not as low as when the contestants played Bent Creek the first time. Rusty Harbold of Philadelphia Cricket Club and Andrew Turner of French Creek each matched the lowest round of the day, a 69, and tied for third place at 210.
Michael Little of Lookaway, Zachary Oakley of Bidermann, and Brett Walker of Sunnybrook all came in at 211 and tied for fifth.
Two Merion pros, Mark Sheftic and Terry Hertzog, tied for the 11th and final qualifying berth for the PGA Professional Championship, which Sheftic won in a 2-hole playoff.