FARMINGTON — It’s not likely many golf fans have heard of Sung-jae Im, Scott Langley, Kyoung Hoon-Lee, Sebastian Munoz or Chase Wright.
On the other hand, most golf fans have certainly heard of John Daly and Zach Johnson, not to mention Tom Lehman, Stewart Cink, Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, David Duval, Webb Simpson, and David Toms.
The first group features the current top five money-winners on the PGA Web.com Tour, which will be making its annual stop in Utah this week at Oakridge Country Club.
The second group includes all major winners on the PGA Tour over the past couple of decades, who have each played in Utah in previous iterations of the Web.com event. Daly and Johnson both won the Utah tournament, while the others finished anywhere from fourth place to missing the cut.
Local golf fans would probably flock to Oakridge this week to watch the latter group of major champions, but don’t really care about players they haven’t heard of, even if they’re world-class golfers.
That’s the conundrum the Web.com Tour has always faced during its 29 years of existence when it has also been known as the Ben Hogan Tour, Nike Tour, Buy.com. Tour or Nationwide Tour. It features some of the best golfers in the world. But the world doesn’t know which golfers are going to turn out to be great.
You can compare it to minor league baseball. Who knew that David Ortiz would eventually become a major league star when he was playing for the Salt Lake Buzz a couple of decades ago? Mike Trout may have been a little more obvious when he played briefly in Salt Lake before playing with the Los Angeles Angels, but still, who knew he’d and up being arguably the best player in baseball when he was playing at Smith’s Ballpark?
Many of the golfers in this week’s tournament at Oakridge, which begins Thursday and runs through Sunday, will be household names someday. It just may not happen for a few years.
It used to be that some of the very best golfers could skip the Web.com Tour and play right away on the PGA Tour as guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson did or more recently, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. But the way it is set up now, it’s very difficult to get on the PGA Tour without first playing on the Web.com Tour. Golfers can no longer earn their PGA Tour card in the fall “Q School,” as that only gets them to the Web.com Tour.
Three years ago Patton Kizzire won the Utah Championship. Now he's one of the top players on the PGA Tour, having won more than $6 million on the PGA Tour and currently ranking No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings.
“The best players on this tour can play on the PGA Tour, it’s proven every year,” said Roberto Castro, who ranks No. 17 on the Web.com money list and is playing at Oakridge this week. “If you look at the best guys on the Tour, most of them have had at least a year out here (on the Web.com),”
Castro has a good understanding of each of the tours, having worked his way up to the big tour and winning more than $7 million before losing his exempt status and returning to the Web.com Tour this year.
The 33-year-old Castro calls the PGA Tour, “a different level of play,” and says the 100th best player on the Web.com Tour is a long way from the 100th best on the PGA Tour. However, he acknowledges there is still a fine line between the players who make the PGA Tour and those who toil on the Web.com Tour.
“Distance and ball-striking are more important on the PGA Tour,” he said. “Also there’s a maturity level on the PGA Tour, even among the young kids who come out and make it right away. But you can come out here and see guys on the range who swing like every guy I see on CBS every week.”
So any golf followers who make it out to Oakridge this week just may be seeing a future winner of the Masters or the U.S. Open. We just won’t know who that might be, for a few years.Comment on this story
TOURNEY NOTES: Tony Finau was on hand for Wednesday afternoon’s pro-am and he played nine holes with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah Sports Commission director Jeff Robbins, Web.com president Dan Glod and Utah golf pro Patrick Fishburn, who is playing in this week’s tournament on a sponsor’s exemption . . . Fishburn, the defending Utah Open champion, tees off in the last group of the day at 2:30 p.m. on No. 10 . . . River Oaks assistant Seokwon Jeon, one of 12 qualifiers at Monday’s qualifying tournament at Talons Cove, tees off at 2:20 p.m. . . . Former Masters champion Mike Weir, who lives in Sandy, is playing this week and tees off at 12:30 p.m. Thursday . . . Scott Pinckney, who played junior golf when he lived in Orem when he was younger, is playing this week. The Arizona State graduate played on the PGA Tour for two years with nine top-25 finishes, but had to sit out all of last year because of a severe back injury . . . Four former champions playing this week are Andres Gonzales (2014), Steven Alker (2013), Michael Putnam (2010) and Josh Teater (2009) are playing in this week’s tourney.