For the past year, and even much of the past week, Karen Paolozzi has been the pro from the Northern Ohio PGA Section who has garnered a lot of attention.
It has been warranted, as she won a five-hole playoff last summer in the section championship to become just the third woman to qualify for the PGA Professional National Championship.
Yet the player she beat in the playoff, Toledo men’s golf coach Jamie Broce, is the one who has played his way into the spotlight in the preeminent event for PGA of America professionals.
Broce got into the $550,000 tournament as an alternate, and shot a 1-under-par 71 Tuesday at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club to take a three-shot lead over Michael Block of Aliso Viejo, Calif., at 5-under 211 into Wednesday’s final round.
“I’m not going to take [leading] as any added pressure,” said Broce, 37. “I’ll just have some fun with it. I don’t have anything to lose, it’s just an opportunity.”
The opportunity is to earn $75,000 of the tournament’s purse, earn exemptions into six 2015 PGA Tour events and qualify for the $10 million 2014 PGA Championship – along with everyone else in the top 20 after the final round – being played Aug. 7-10 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
Broce’s lead is three over Block and four over Dave McNabb of Newark, Del., David Hronek of North Port, Fla., and Ryan Helminen of Menasha, Wis. Three players are five shots back and tied for sixth at even-par 216. “There are a lot of guys right behind me that could shoot 4 or 5 under,” Broce said.
Both Broce and Block, 38, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., are relatively inexperienced in the PPNC. Broce missed the cut in his first appearance last year and Block is in his first. Both became eligible when they earned Class A status in 2012.
“I’m came here to win it. That’s why I came here,” Block said. “I didn’t come here to get top 20 like most people are trying to do. I’m came here to win this thing, that’s definitely my goal.”
Broce took a one-shot lead over Helminen into the third round and bogeyed the fifth hole before making birdies on the sixth and eighth holes to make the turn 5 under for the tournament. He scrambled well on the back, making birdie at 13and bogey at 14 with a three-putt, and getting up and down for par on holes 10, 11, 12, 15, 17 and 18.
“I’m super tired right now. I was just skanking every iron shot coming down the stretch,” Broce said. “I hit some loose iron shots today but made up for it by just getting everything up and down. I made a lot of nice 5- and 6-footers and made a nice 10-footer on the last hole.”
The third round took more than 5 ½ hours for many players, not including a one-hour delay because of a thunderstorm. That should help Broce rest well on the lead. “I might even take some sleeping pills to help me out a little bit,” Broce said. “I really feel comfortable on this golf course, so I think that will help a little bit to maybe settle the nerves a little bit tomorrow before I tee off.”
Block has never been a touring pro, though he played in the 2007 U.S. Open and made the 36-hole cut this year in the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines with a second-round 69 but shot an 86 in the third round.
Block was rained out of his sole practice round at The Dunes Club after seven holes Saturday. “That was my second time seeing that golf course because I didn’t get a practice round in,” Block said. “I’m trying to get used to the greens. I’m getting there. I’m used to bent and poa annua [grass]. I’m trying to get used to it, and I think I’ve saved my best for last.”
McNabb, 48, has had the most volatile tournament among the contenders. The head pro at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa., was tied for the lead after a 5-under 67 at Grande Dunes in the first round, shot a 6-over 78 in the second round and rebounded with a 70 Tuesday.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride to say the least,” said McNabb, who birdied two of his final three holes in the second round to avoid shooting in the 80s. “I was fortunate to turn it around and kind of fought hard, which is what I pride myself on, and it got me in a good spot today. … So hopefully we’re back on track.”
McNabb not only made his first cut in his fifth PPNC last year, but tied for ninth to qualify for the 2013 PGA Championship. “I got into the PGA as a first-time participant last year and I’m gunning for that again this year.”
Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., one of the more accomplished players in the field at age 53, made the biggest move Tuesday.
The reigning four-time Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year from 2010-13 made the cut to the low 103 scores on the number at 5 over, then shot a 4-under 68 in the third round to move into a tie for ninth at 217.
“I was thinking last night what it would take to have a chance to get back in the hunt and get into the top 20," Skinner said. “I planted the seed in the back of my mind that I needed to get into the 60s to have a chance. I went out and putted well and hit it solid.”
Skinner has played in six previous PPNCs, all since 2007, and has a pair of runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2010 and tie for ninth last year.
A total of 77 players made the cut to the final round at 9-over 225, including Paolozzi, now an assistant at Druid Hills Golf Club outside Atlanta. She shot a 78 Tuesday and made the cut by two shots at 224 to become the second woman to reach the final round, joining Suzy Whaley of Connecticut in 2005.
"The 54-hole cut was definitely on my mind today,” said Paolozzi, who birdied the 17th hole. “… I'm thrilled to still be here. I hope I can put a good round together tomorrow. My golf swing is a little tired. I'm not used to all this golf, so I need to get some rest and take it easy this evening.”
Paolozzi is playing approximately 85 percent of the men’s yardage and is not eligible for the PGA Championship because of the distance discrepancy.
Also making the cut was Rick Lewallen, 55, of Kannapolis, N.C., who graduated from Myrtle Beach High in 1975 after two years at the school, played at Coastal Carolina and lived in Myrtle Beach for 12 years.
Lewallen entered the third round tied for 19th and five shots off the lead at 1 over but shot an 80 to make the cut on the number.
“What I came here for has disappeared on me,” said Lewallen, who made triple bogey on the 10th hole with a short approach and double on the 13th with a drive into Lake Singleton. “I just had two missed shots and made a double and a triple. I birdied the first hole and felt things were going to be really good today. I’ve played here probably 100 times.”
Tee times Wednesday are from 8-10 a.m. with players going off both the first and 10th holes in threesomes in an attempt to avoid possible inclement weather. Spectators are admitted free with parking and shuttles at the Grande Dunes Resort Course.