The future clashes with the present next week, when the Gila River Classic gets under way at Whirlwind Golf Club. As always is the case for this late-season event on the Nationwide Tour, a star will be born.
Whether that "star" will actually win the tournament remains to be seen. But, either way, those who decide to check out the Gila River Classic in person will be treated to some terrific golf by some tremendous young players.
By now, most people know that Ernie Els, John Daly, David Duval, Jim Furyk and Tom Lehman — to name a few — cut their teeth on the Nationwide, which also has gone by the tour brands of Ben Hogan, Nike and Buy.com over the past 15 years. But did you know that former Nationwide players have won 137 PGA Tour events, including 10 major championships?
Past Gila River Classic champions also have fared well, especially the tournament’s first winner in 2001, Ben Crane. And while Crane has won twice in the big leagues, his successors — David Branshaw in 2002, and the defending champ, Lucas Glover — have been more of a mixed bag. Of the latter two, Glover currently is competing on the PGA Tour, where he ranks No. 143 on the money list with $374,154.
This year’s field is stellar by Nationwide standards. Three players — Scottsdale’s Kevin Stadler (son of Craig), Jimmy Walker and Daniel Chopra — all could graduate to the PGA Tour if they add a third win for the season here.
"We’ve got all the top moneywinners, and a lot of others with interesting stories," said Tony Sokolowski, the tournament director for sponsor Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix. "And with the season coming to a close (in three weeks), there’s always a lot of excitement surrounding the event."
The "excitement" Sokolowski was speaking of is the jockeying for position on the money list, as the top 20 finishers will earn their cards on the PGA Tour for 2005. At the moment, Walker leads the Class of ‘04 with $363,305, with D.A. Points next with $311,906.
Stadler, surprisingly, ranks no better than 18th on the money chart ($181,740) despite his pair of wins. That’s because he has split his time between the PGA (playing on sponsor’s exemptions) and Nationwide tours, a big jump from a year ago when the "Baby Walrus" competed on the Scottsdalebased Grey Goose Gateway Tour.
As far as the other stories of interest, none are better than that of Jeff Quinney. The former Arizona State All-American who lives in Scottsdale recently won his first Nationwide title in his hometown of Eugene, Ore., and is looking for more of the same at the Gila River Classic.
"That’s my other ‘home-field advantage,’ " pointed out Quinney, who slid all the way from No. 31 to 36 in the week following his victory. "If I could get a couple more good finishes, or a win, I could get to approximately $190,000, which would get me in the top 20 (money-winners), and fully exempt onto the PGA Tour."
Quinney has no concerns when it comes to getting into the seasonending Nationwide Tour Championship, which includes the top 60 money-winners.
But he needs a minor rally of sorts to make the top 35, which would get him into the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School, and (at least) retain his Nationwide status for 2005.
Going into this week’s Nationwide tournament at Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Kyle Thompson is the man on the No. 20 bubble with $176,595.
Gila River Classic
When: Monday-Oct. 10 Where: Whirlwind Golf Club, Cattail Course, Gila River Indian Community
TV: The Golf Channel, 2-4:30 p.m. Thursday-Oct. 10
Tickets: $10 daily, $65 VIP daily Information: (602) 954-8182