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Watch the Utah Nationwide Tour and Then Look to the Future

Will Utahns support Nationwide Tour stop?
Published: Sunday, July 24, 2011 11:12 p.m. MDT
SANDY — For almost two decades, the PGA Nationwide Tour has brought some of the finest golfers in the world to Utah. Local golf fans have been able to watch these talented golfers up close and personal for next to nothing out of their pockets.
But ever since the Ben Hogan Tour, which is what the Nationwide Tour was called before it was the Nike Tour and Buy.com Tour, came to Utah in 1990, only a few hundred fans have come out to watch these excellent golfers each day of the tournament.
Perhaps a big reason has been because the tournament has been saddled with September dates that aren’t great for people more interested in football than watching great golf.
Only once in the 19 years the tournament has been held, has the Ben Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide event not been stuck with September dates. And that year, 2004, the tournament was held the last week of August — opposite the final week of the Summer Olympics.
However this year, there’s no excuse.
The Nationwide Utah Championship finally has prime summer dates in July. The tourney will be played this Thursday through Sunday at its usual Willow Creek Country Club location in Sandy.
This year the annual tourney comes smack dab in the middle of the Nationwide Tour schedule, the 14th of 26 events in 2011.
It comes at a time when the kids are still out of school, there’s no college football, no little league soccer, no high school football.
The question is, will Utahns come out and support it?
Why shouldn’t they come out to watch players such as Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, David Toms, Ernie Els, Stewart Cink and Boo Weekley?
All of the aforementioned players have played in Utah as have players such as David Duval, John Daly and Tom Lehman.
The problem is, all of those guys played in Utah BEFORE they were famous.
Daly, of course, won the first event to come to Utah, in 1990 at Riverside Country Club in Provo. Two years later he won the PGA Championship and became a household name in golf.
Lehman also played in that first tournament and went on to win several tournaments including the British Open, along with Daly. Duval finished second in Utah in 1994 and less than five years later was ranked No. 1 in the world.
Johnson, Toms, Els and Cink have all won majors, while Watson and Weekley both won on the PGA Tour within a couple of years after playing in Utah as well as on the U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
If those golfers were here this week, fans would flock to come and see them play. Unfortunately they have all moved on the PGA Tour, much like Jered Weaver, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick have left Salt Lake for good to play for the Los Angeles Angels.
Now the challenge for Utah Championship executive director Mike Smith is convincing local golf fans to come watch the likes of Matthew Goggin, Kyle Thompson, Erik Compton, Troy Kelly and Russell Knox, the current the top five money-winners on the Nationwide Tour, and telling the fans that some day one of these guys might win the Masters as 2003 Utah Classic winner Johnson did in 2007.
The difference between the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour golfer is tiny, perhaps a half a stroke per round per player. That’s why you see so many guys going back and forth between the two tours and why Nationwide Tour alumni have more than 300 wins on the PGA Tour, including a record 28 last year. Remember Jhonattan Vegas who finished second at last year’s Utah Championship? Already this year has pocketed more than $1.5 million and has a win at the Bob Hope Classic.
So come out and watch the future stars of the PGA Tour this week (tickets can be purchased at utahchampionship.com for just $10 a day or a mere $25 for the entire week).
Then perhaps a few years from now when Ted Potter Jr. or Steve Wheatcroft or some guy you hadn’t heard of before this week, wins the Masters, you can tell all your friends, “Yeah, I saw him play at Willow Creek back in Oh Eleven.”

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