Category - Member Events
Trevor Bensel Leads by One Following First Round of 2023 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship
By Craig Dolch
Trevor Bensel, PGA.(Rachel Harris/PGA of America)
Trevor Bensel started last Thursday and finished first. There was a correlation.
Bensel, the last player to tee off in the first round of the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship, birdied three consecutive holes late in his round to fire a 6-under 66 and take a one-shot lead over Mike Ballo Jr. at PGA Golf Club.
Mother Nature had her way early Nov. 16, with winds gusting more than 35-mph to start the day and blowing at least 20-mph throughout the morning wave. Add in the occasional rain, and the Wanamaker Course showed its teeth.
But as the day went on, the winds eased, and the afternoon wave had a less difficult time. Call it the luck – or the unluck – of the draw. It turned out fortuitous for Bensel and the rest of the afternoon wave.
“I didn’t mind the late tee time,” said Bensel, who works at Sandy Run Country Club in the Philadelphia Section. “The guys in the morning had more rain and wind to deal with. It definitely died down late in the round.”
Bensel birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to take the lead. The highlight was a 6-iron he hit to 2 feet at the 17th hole. “That was a bonus,” he said.
Ballo Jr. of Westchester Country Club also took advantage of the afternoon tee time with a 5-under 67. Ballo birdied each of the four par-5s despite not hitting any of them in two shots, relying on his short game.
Ballo said he heard his brother, Peter, shot 70 in the morning wave, so he had a target score. He bettered it by three.
“It’s really hard out there now,” Mike Ballo said. “We did get lucky with the wave here, but it’s still howling out there. (Peter’s) 2-under this morning was probably more impressive than my 5-under in the afternoon.
“But that’s part of the game. You get lucky with the wave once in a while. Hopefully, I can take advantage.”
Taylor Davis of Timuquana Country Club in Jacksonville is tied for third place at 4-under 68 with Matt Dubrowski of Atlantic Golf Club and Preston Cole of Quail Hollow Club. Davis was the only player in the group who played in the morning.
“About three or four holes in, I was thinking about all those times I’ve been complaining about a bad draw,” Dubrowski said. “We were definitely on the right side today. It’s nice to get one once in a while.”
Davis saved his best for last, closing with birdies on two of his last three holes. He reached the par-5 seventh in two and two-putted for birdie, then made an unexpected birdie at No. 9 after a drive into the rough that he hit to 7 feet.
“I teed it low all day and didn’t hit a lot of full shots,” said the 29-year-old Davis. “I plodded along until ‘Wow, we’re done.’”
The average score for the morning wave was about 76.8, and that was with PGA of America officials shortening the Wanamaker Course to 6,820 yards (5,768 for the women) and allowing preferred lies because of the weather. The average score for the afternoon was 1.25 strokes lower than the morning.
Alan Morin of The Club at Ibis in West Palm Beach shot 69 in the morning and is tied for sixth place with Dustin Nelson of Cross Timbers Golf Course.
Morin got off to a torrid start, making three birdies on his first five holes. He lamented a pair of “dumb bogeys” at the 12th and 13th holes, when he misjudge the wind, but responded with birdies at the 16th and 17th to return to 3-under.
“I struck the ball really well,” Morin said. “I hit a great shot at 17 and just dripped it in the front. I was really happy with the finish.”
The 54-year-old Morin has dominated the South Florida PGA, winning Player of the Year honors 14 times (three times as a Senior). But he has yet to win a national PGA championship despite coming close a half-dozen times.
“I’ve always wanted to win a national championship,” Morin said. “We’re all competitors. But these guys hit it so much farther than me. They’re hitting 6- and 7-irons into greens and I’m back there hitting hybrids.”
Peter Ballo of Connecticut Golf Club is tied for eighth place after his 70 as he hopes to overtake his brother. Ballo made three of his four birdies on par-5s despite being in the morning’s second group when conditions were the harshest.
“It was probably the hardest conditions I’ve ever played this course in – 30-35-mph winds and rain on half the holes,” Ballo said. “You have to be mentally strong to play in these conditions, understanding that pars don’t hurt you.”
Defending champion Domenico Geminiani is not playing because he qualified for Stage 2 of the Korn Ferry Tour q-school being played this week at nearby Tesoro Club.
The winner, provided they’re eligible, will earn a spot in the 2024 PGA Professional Championship at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch in April. The top four finishers and ties will earn exemptions into the 2024 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship.