WHITEMARSH – Stu Ingraham’s two-and-a-half foot par putt slid into the hole to complete a 1-under 69 in the final round of the Philadelphia Section PGA Championship Thursday at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course, a classic A.W. Tillinghast design.
At 56, Ingraham’s 6-under 206 total beat everybody in the field with the exception of runaway winner Jordan Gibbs, an assistant pro at Gulph Mills Golf Club whose brilliant 4-under 66 gave him a winning total of 11-under 201. More on Gibbs later.
Last year Ingraham, the head of instruction at the M Golf Range in Newtown Square, co-wrote a book with Bob Ockenfuss titled “Mind Game Discover Your Golf Identity,” but his level of play in 2016 has surprised even him.
“I’m having my best year ever in golf, period,” Ingraham said after having his picture taken with the 11 other Philadelphia Section pros who earned a trip to the Sunriver Resort in Sunriver Ore. next June for the PGA Professional Championship. “My game has been off the charts this year. People ask me, ‘how can you go out there against these kids who are hitting it 30 yards past you all day?’
“It isn’t about your golf swing, it isn’t about ball flight. It’s about getting the ball in the hole. It’s about getting it done.”
After years of anchoring the long putter, Ingraham was forced to try something different with anchoring banned beginning in January. He went to a claw grip and his season got off to a promising start when he made the cut in the Senior PGA Championship at The Golf Club at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich., a PGA Champions tour major.
But it is this late part of summer that has defined Ingraham’s success in recent years.
Last month he bested a field of the Philadelphia Section’s top senior pros to win the Philadelphia PGA Senior Professional Championship. That earns him a trip to the PGA Senior Professional Championship Nov. 17 to 20 at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Another high finish there and Ingraham is right back in the Senior PGA Championship, which will be held next spring Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Va.
And with his runnerup finish Thursday at the Cricket Club, Ingraham makes the field for the PGA Professional Championship at Sunriver. The two national Club Pro events will bring the total of national PGA events in which Ingraham has teed it up to 28.
“I’ve played in 10 major championships and made the cut in six of them, that’s pretty good for a club pro,” Ingraham said. “I’ve given more than 21,000 lessons. I’m still playing at a high level because I manage my game as well as any player in America.”
Two other Section seniors will do the same double that Ingraham will be doing, both the Senior Club Pro at the PGA Golf Club in November and the National Club Pro at Trump National next spring.
Applebrook Golf Club head pro Dave McNabb, who was the defending champion at the Cricket Club, finished a shot back of Ingraham Thursday at 5-under 206 after posting a final-round 71 over the 7,119-yard, par-70 Wissahickon Course. And Radnor Valley Country Club head pro George Forster finished in a tie for 11th at 1-over 213 to grab one of the final two tickets to Sunriver. Forster has played in 11 PGA Champions Tour majors, including that Senior PGA at Harbor Shores last May.
“Every year, I’m ready, I expect that this will be the year when I finally start to slow down, when my body starts to tell me, OK, you can’t do this anymore,” Ingraham said. “But this year I crossed even that bridge and I’m playing the best golf I’ve ever played.
“I realize that it’s my experience that’s carrying me. It’s about controlling your nerves, controlling situations. You have to know how to score.”
There was one young club pro, at 28 exactly half Ingraham’s age, who nobody in the field had an answer for Thursday. Gibbs, a Princeton, N.J. native who played collegiately at Rutgers, opened the tournament with a 5-under 67 at the Cricket Club’s Militia Hill Course Tuesday, added a 2-under 68 at the Wissahickon Course Wednesday and kept the pedal to the metal with his final-round 66.
“I came in here really confident, I’ve been playing really well for a while,” said Gibbs as he held a crystal vase with his photo-op first-place check for $8,000 not far away. “I’ve been hitting it so good, driving it long and straight, hitting it close to the hole, making some putts. I’ve been telling them in the shop at Gulph Mills I thought I could win this.”
McNabb, playing in the same group as Gibbs, trailed by only a shot heading into the final round. He could only watch in admiration as Gibbs put up five birdies on the front nine to pull away from him and the rest of the field.
“The way I look at it, I had a front-row seat to one of the best rounds in the history of the Section championship,” McNabb said. “He just kept knocking down flagsticks and making putts. The whole thing was impressive.”
Gibbs had only played the Wissahickon Course once before this week, having teed it up in last summer’s Philadelphia Open. But it seemed to be a perfect fit for him.
“It’s such an aesthetically pleasing course, you get up on every tee and you’re excited to hit it,” Gibbs said. “I guess it did fit my eye this week. I was driving it long and straight and that was leaving me short irons in. If you’re hitting longer irons in, it’s harder to get it close and the greens are so undulating, it puts a lot more pressure on your putting.”
Philadelphia Country Club head pro Scott Reilly and John Pillar of the Country Club at Woodloch Springs finished in a tie for fourth, two shots back of McNabb at 3-under 209. Reilly carded a 2-over 72 in the final round while Pillar finished up with a 1-under 69.
Tony Perla, an assistant at the Cricket Club who had a final-round 69, headed a group of four players tied for sixth at 1-under 211.
Joining him at that figure were Mike Molino of The Country Club of Scranton, who fired a 2-under 68 in the final round, Alex Knoll of Bethlehem Golf Club, who matched par with a final-round 70 and Michael Little of Lookaway Golf Club, who finished up with a 1-over 71.
Forster, who had a final-round 73, was joined at 1-over 213 by another Cricket Club pro, John Spina, who matched par at the Wissahickon Course with a 70 as they nailed down the final two tickets to Sunriver.