Jim Estes came to the Senior PGA Championship last week having last competed on tour in 2000 and, as a full-time instructor at Olney golf park, a little out of practice. The Germantown resident had hit only a bucket of balls on the range before teeing off in the most storied of the five majors on the PGA Tour Champions.
But soon enough the competitive fire began settling in, as did Estes’s swing at Trump National golf club in Sterling. The result was a final-round 2-under-par 70 to finish as the low club professional Sunday.
Estes’s 72-hole total of 2-over 290 led four other club pros who made the cut and also was ahead of such major champions as Jeff Sluman, Ian Woosnam and Corey Pavin.
“Not bad for a broken down old pro who doesn’t practice,” Estes said. “I spend more time working with other people’s games than my own. But it’s just a privilege and an honor to get out here and play well in front of people that I know well — students, wounded veterans, but also some of my high school kids.”
The win was particularly meaningful for Estes because it came over the Memorial Day weekend. In 2006, Estes, 52, founded the Salute Military Golf Association in which he provides complimentary lessons to veterans who have suffered either mental or physical damage from combat.
In June, the SMGA will hold its annual charity golf classic. It’s the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization whose mission statement includes “rehabilitative golf programs, experiences, and family inclusive golf opportunities for post 9/11 wounded war veterans in an effort to improve the quality of life for these American heroes.”
“I couldn’t be happier to be in this position on Memorial Day weekend,” Estes said. “I mean when they come out and shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you for doing what you’re doing,’ it means a lot.”
Estes recalled having a walking scorer with 36 years in the military, including special operations, following his group.
“He’s like, ‘I wanted to be with you today,’ ” Estes said. “Those are the kind of things you can’t replace. Money can’t replace it. My personal game, how well I play, all of it is in perspective. It’s just a special weekend really.”
Estes carded five birdies in the final round, including three in a row beginning at No. 14, a 420-yard par-4. He bogeyed the 533-yard par-5 18th but still managed to hold off runner-up club professional Mark Brown by one stroke.
Brown, 54, the club pro at Tan O’ Shanter golf club in Brooklyn, was making his Senior PGA debut. Rick Schuller, Jeff Roth and Lee Houtteman were the other club pros to make it to the weekend.
Schuller, the PGA teaching professional at Stonehenge Golf & Country Club in North Chesterfield, Va., was tied with Estes heading to No. 18 but made triple bogey.
“It’s easy for me to critique others,” said Estes, whose pupils comprise all age groups, “but then when you have to go out and do it yourself, you want to make them proud.”