It's being called the most wide-open tournament ever with the most talented, not to mention - largest - field ever. And it all begins Friday morning at Willow Creek Country Club.
"It" is the University Hospital-Utah Open, which will be played for the eighth straight year at Willow Creek. The 54-hole tournament offers a $100,000 total purse and the largest first prize of any state open in the country - $20,000.This year's record field of 170 has no big-time favorite like Mike Reid, who has played four of the past five years. And barring any last-minute additions such as Jay Don Blake or Keith Clearwater, there will be no local golfers from the PGA Tour. That's what makes this such a wide-open event.
"There are 30 or 40 guys who could win the golf tournament - there's that many good players," said Willow Creek head pro Mike Kahler. "And I don't think there's any question this is the best field from top to bottom that we've ever had."
Looking for a favorite? Where do we begin? How about last year's winner Perry Arthur, who put his name in the limelight with his opening-round 65 and then held on to defeat Reid in a thrilling playoff when he chipped in for birdie on the first playoff hole.
Other former champions playing this week include Jimmy Blair (1981), Ray Arinno (1980) Bob Betley (1979) and Mike Malaska (1974).
There's a group of "old-timers" former PGA Tour players who are getting ready to join the Senior Tour in the next few years - Babe Hiskey, Larry Ziegler, Rod Curl and Mike Reasor. And Salt Lake's own Dick Peacock, who has played in several Senior events will be on hand.
Other former PGA players include Mike Morley, who tied for second in 1986 and Brian Claar, who teamed with Don January in the Jeremy Ranch Showdown a couple of years back.
Many young up-and-coming golfers who either have already played or could soon be playing on the PGA Tour include Ray Barr, Brian Fogt, Bob Estes, David Tentis, Clark Dennis, Brandel Chamblee, Jeff Maggert, Tom Lehman, Kel Devlin and Doug Wherry.
Although none has won since Blair in 1981, you can never rule out Utah's club professionals who are among the best in in the country. Local players to watch include Bruce Summerhays, who finished second in the Colorado Open last month, Browning Cup points leader Kim Thompson, Tom Costello, Mack Christensen, Reid Goodliffe, Henry White, Lynn Landgren, Jeff Green, Steve Schneiter, along with Blair, Betley and Malaska.
Some top Intermountain area pros to watch are Wyoming's John Godwin, Idaho's Jeff Thomsen, Nevada's Tom Storey and Colorado's Bob Eaks, whose 66 on Monday won the qualifying.
A bunch of former BYU golfers are entered led by recently-graduated Bruce Brockbank, who will be making his pro debut this week. Other ex-Y. golfers include Robert Meyer, Kent Kluba, Dave DeSantis, John Bodenhamer, Eduardo Herrera, Rishi Narain and Bobby Casper.
Could an amateur win the tournament for the first time since BYU golfer Mike Brannan won in 1975? Among the top amateurs to keep an eye on are BYU golfers Brad Sutterfield and Rafael Ponce, University of Utah's Doug Roberts and Devin Dehlin, Northwestern's Brett Taylor along with top local amateurs such as Todd Barker and Mike Borich and a couple of juniors - Johnny Miller Jr. and Babe Hiskey Jr. Who knows, maybe somebody we haven't even mentioned will sneak up and claim the $20,000 first prize come Sunday.
One thing you can bet on is some low scores being shot this week. According to Kahler, the course isn't being made more difficult for the tournament.
"The golf course is in such perfect condition that the good golfers are going to shoot some good golf scores," he said. "It will be exactly the same course the members play on. We won't do anything to trick up the golf course.
"I think we'll get some players shooting 64 or 65 and that will show what good golfers they are," added Kahler.
OPEN NOTES: In Wednesday's pro-am two teams tied for first at at 25-under-par 119. One team included Alpine head pro Joey Bonsignore and amateurs Roland Laney, Wayne Cooper and Bruce Wilson and the other included East Bay pro Kean Ridd along with Jim McNamara, Dean Thurgood and Judd Whiting . . . A cut will be made after Saturday's round for the low 50 pros and 10 amateurs . . . Thursday's pro-am was changed from a Celebrity Pro-am to a Corporate Pro-am - in essence all they did was drop the celebrities and make it a four-man rather than a five-man scramble . . . A "derby" featuring the low six pros from Thursday's round and along with six corporate sponsors was to be held at 5 p.m. at Willow Creek.