SALT LAKE CITY — As it has every year for the past 39 years, the PGA Tour is coming to Utah this week.
You probably didn’t know that, or at least didn’t realize it.
For a decade it was the Senior (now Champions) Tour, which first came to Utah in 1981 as the Jeremy Ranch Shootout. Then it was the Ben Hogan Tour, in which Utah was a stop, beginning in 1990, giving the state two PGA Tour-sanctioned events for much of the next decade until the Champions Tour gave up its Utah stop in 2002.
However, the “Triple-A” tour has continued and will be played this week at Oakridge Country Club, beginning Thursday and running through Sunday under a new tour name, but with the same quality field and small crowds.
The tournament is still called the Utah Championship, run primarily by the Utah Sports Commission with Zions Bank as the presenting sponsor. However now it is being played on what is called the Korn Ferry Tour, replacing its most recent name, the Web.com Tour. Before that, it was the Nationwide Tour, the Buy.com Tour, the Nike Tour and Ben Hogan Tour.
Korn Ferry? Yup, as of last Wednesday to be exact, the tour is now called Korn Ferry, named after a Los Angeles-based global organizational consulting firm, which signed a 10-year deal to be the umbrella sponsor of the PGA’s developmental tour.
The quality of play this week will be virtually the same as what you see on the big-time PGA Tour. There is such a fine line between the PGA Tour and the, um, Korn Ferry Tour, perhaps a stroke or two per round per player. Just ask Utahns Daniel Summerhays and Zac Blair, who were playing the PGA Tour on a regular basis a couple of years ago, just how difficult it is. They were exempt players — Summerhays for seven years — and now are having a hard time just making cuts on the lesser tour.
Years ago, the slogan of the tour was “These guys are good” — actually it applied to all PGA Tour events — but the Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com Tour especially played up the slogan in its ads.
Yes, these guys are good, but it’s a hard sell, telling fans that most of the 156 players in the field are among the top 1,000 or so golfers in the world and barely a notch below the regulars on the PGA Tour.
Fans who came out to Oakridge last year saw Cameron Champ produce some 400-yard drives on his way to victory. That’s no exaggeration. Several fans who witnessed it can tell you how he bombed one well over 400 yards at the par-5 15th hole and only needed as wedge to get home. For the week he averaged an astounding 390.8 yards per drive.
It’s no surprise that in his rookie season Champ leads the PGA Tour in driving distance at 316.6 and has already won a tournament.
Two-time major championship winners John Daly and Zach Johnson are the most famous of the former champions of the Utah event. Probably third-best is Patton Kizzire, who won here in 2015 and has gone on to win $7.5 million on the PGA Tour, where he has picked up two victories.
Other players who have come through Utah include the likes of Xander Schauffele (No. 10 in the world who played here in 2016), Justin Thomas (ranked No. 7 in the world, who played here in 2014) and recent U.S. Open winner Gary Woodland (who played here in 2007 and 2010), not to mention major winners Ernie Els, Tom Lehman and Bubba Watson. Of course, local hero Tony Finau also played here more than once.
So why don’t more fans come out to see these great golfers?
One problem is the name of the tour. The name has changed six times since it began 29 years ago. So just when fans are getting used to Web.com Tour, after the Nationwide Tour, it changes right in the middle of the season to Korn Ferry, which sounds like something a Midwest farmer might use to navigate through his crops during the rainy season.
Another issue is the timing of the tournament. Because the PGA Tour has to juggle various events — new ones replacing old ones most years — the dates are different nearly every year unlike, say the Masters or U.S. Open, which are the same week every year.Comment on this story
For years, the Utah event was played in early September, which conflicted with college football. It has been played over the 24th of July holiday and several times it conflicted with the Utah Men’s Amateur, which has been played the second week of July since forever.
This year marks the first time it will be played in the last week of June, which is advantageous because the temperatures should be more mild and there isn’t much competition in the sports world, locally or nationally.
Fans who like big-time golf should consider driving up to Farmington this week and checking out the golf stars of tomorrow.
Who knows? They might be watching the next Justin Thomas or Bubba Watson or Xander Schauffele.
They just won’t realize it for another three or four years.