IT'S LESS THAN A MONTH until "Utah's biggest sporting event of the year" (hat's what organizers call it) takes place.

The Showdown Classic, a regular event on the PGA Senior Golf Tour, will be played at Jeremy Ranch July 13-17, some six weeks earlier than the traditional late-August dates.The tourney, which came very close to being canceled last winter, is back not only with a new time slot, but with new sponsors and a good chance of being solvent for a change.

While not all of the senior golfers have made their final committments, 61 of the 72 spots are already filled.

Heading the list are defending champion Miller Barber, last year's runner-up Bruce Crampton, this year's leading Senior Tour money-winner, Orville Moody, and 1986 Showdown winner Bobby Nichols.

Other top golfers include Gay Brewer, Bob Goalby, Dale Douglass, John Brodie, Charles Owens, Larry Mowry, Charles Coody, Harold Henning, Don Bies along with local favorite Bill Johnston.

Notably absent from the list are Gary Player, Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer and Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Casper, who won the initial tournament at Jeremy Ranch in 1982, will miss the event for the first time due to a committment at a golf clinic he's held in Florida for several years during the same week.

Player, who has played here the last three years, will be in England at the British Open, which is being played the same week.

Rodriguez is still a good possibility to come and as for Palmer, who knows? He has chosen to skip the Showdown the last two years and usually doesn't commit until the last minute.

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GOLFERS GETTING THE SHAFT: About half the finalists at this year's State Long Drive Contest, held last week at Nibley Park, were using those extra long drivers with the brightly-colored graphite shafts and metal heads that are being seen more and more at local golf courses.

Winner Kurt Moore was there with his 48-inch model, 1987 champion Rob Despain had his 46-incher, while 1985-86 champion Gary Schneiter was using a 44-inch club ( normal driver is 43 inches).

Kurt's father, Don Moore, is the president of Carbon Fiber, the company that makes the Novus II graphite shaft. The company produces about 7,000 a month in 33 different colors (`they're the Baskin-Robbins of golf clubs," jokes Kurt). Ed Langert, who used to work for Taylor-Made, produces the metal head that goes with the shaft. Don Moore says for the shaft to be effective, it needs a properly weighted head, which Langert makes.

While the company is based in Ogden, a few golfers on the PGA Tour are using the golf club, among them Bob Gilder, John Inman, and Hubie Green.

For awhile, the company sold the clubs out of its shop in Ogden, but has recently started selling them only wholesale to local golf pro shops.

So if you want to be the first on your block with one of these new-fangled clubs, contact your local pro - just be prepared to shell out around $125 for it.

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SCHNEITER UPDATE: A year ago at this time, BYU golfer Steve Schneiter surprised a lot of folks by announcing he would forgo his final two years of college eligibility and turn professional.

During the past year, not only did the BYU golf team struggle - in part due to the absence of Schneiter - but so did Schneiter. He didn't make it to the final qualifying for the PGA Tour and hasn't exactly torn up the local professional circuit. But looking back on his decision, Schneiter says he has no regrets.

"I feel good about what I'm doing," he says. "I knew what I was in for. Playing as a pro isn't easy. There are a lot of guys trying to make a living as a pro."

Schneiter, who is 24, felt he was old enough to turn pro after sitting out a year of college with a back injury and spending two years on an LDS mission. He says he holds no grudges and wishes he was on better terms with his former coach, Karl Tucker, who felt betrayed by Schneiter's decision.

"I've learned a lot this past year and have gotten used to playing as a pro," says Schneiter, who adds, "Not everyone can make the (GA) Tour on their first try."

While Schneiter says he "can't say when," he plans to play on the PGA Tour some day and will keep pursuing his dream of making it. In the meantime he's earned his PGA apprenticeship and will work at his father's golf course (chneiter's Pebblebrook).

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STRAY SHOTS: Laurie Wolfe won the first big ladies tournament of the year, the Davis Park Invitational, last week, carding a 76 to edge Joyce Billings by a shot . . . The Ute Golf Day two weeks ago netted the U. golf program between $12,000 and $13,000. Coach Ron Branca says the money will help the Utes upgrade their schedule next year . . . On tap this week - Public Links Qualifying at Bountiful, Wednesday; Women's City Parks at Mountain Dell, Wednesday and Thursday; Karl Thalman Invitational at Riverside Friday and Saturday; Davis County Amateur at Davis Park; Cache Valley Amateur at Birch Creek, Saturday; Art City Amateur at Hobble Creek, Saturday and Sunday; Sizzler Open and Pro-Am at Park City, Friday through Sunday.