Trans-Miss looks to rise in amateur ranks

Change doesn’t come often to the Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship.

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The Trans-Miss Championship trophy will be awarded to a stroke-play winner for the first time at this week’s event.

For the past 106 years, the Trans-Miss has been contested in a match-play format. Since 1987, it has been restricted to mid-amateur players (25 and older).

When the 2010 event takes place July 13-15 at Denver Country Club, it will be played as a 54-hole stroke-play championship and include open (19 and older) and senior (55 and older) divisions.

“Personally, I prefer match play,” said Kim Richey, executive secretary of the Trans-Mississippi Golf Association. “But the reality is, stroke play is better as far as travel and for players’ planning purposes. Match play is difficult because players don’t know if they’ll be there for one match, two matches or until the end. So it can become an expense issue.

“All of us here are really excited about the changes, and especially bringing back the college kids is a major plus.”

The Trans-Miss once was considered one of the leading major amateur championships in the country.

Past champions include Jack Nicklaus (1958-59), Charles Coe (1947, ’49, ’52 and ’56), former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman (1960), Ben Crenshaw (1972), Gary Koch (1973), Bob Tway (1978), Mark Brooks (1979) and Bob Estes (1985).

“The main thing is (association officials) want to see the Trans restored to one of the premier amateur tournaments in the country,” said Mike McCoy, champion in 2000 and ’08 and member of the organization’s board of directors. “They’re going all out to put on a first-class event.

“They wanted to bring the young guys back in. It just made sense to go where the game is going.”

This year’s tournament will consist of 156 players – 96 in the open division and 60 in the senior division – with those coming from TMGA member clubs or players receiving a special invitation from the championship committee.

“We are committed to recruiting a starting field that will rival any other amateur event in the country,” said Steve Hatchett, chairman of the Trans-Miss Championship Committee.

Match game

The remaining national match-play events:

Cotton States, Monroe, La.

North & South, Pinehurst, N.C.

Pacific Northwest*, Victoria, B.C.

U.S. Public Links*, Greensboro, N.C.

Western*, Glencoe, Ill.

U.S. Amateur*, University Place, Wash.

U.S. Mid-Amateur*, Bridgehampton, N.Y.

USGA Senior*, Orlando, Fla.

  • 2010 site (host site rotates annually)

However, that might not happen overnight. Even with its history and tradition, the Trans-Miss could take some time to climb back up in the ranks of the amateur elite.

This year is a prime example. Although the Trans has an excellent venue, its dates clash with the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, the Southern Amateur and the Pacific Northwest Amateur. And, an event that’s only 54 holes as opposed to 72 holes of other major amateur events might not appeal to some players.

This year’s event does have a handful of top college entrants, including Oklahoma State’s Kevin Tway, Stanford senior Steve Ziegler and Arizona State junior Philip Francis, a former No. 1-ranked junior player who sat out last season after transferring from UCLA. Tway finished last season at No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, and Ziegler was No. 37.

“We knew the first year was going to be a tough go and that a lot of the top players might lean toward the Southern Amateur,” Richey said. “But there are so many good college players out there these days that we feel there’s room for them all.”

Richey said tournament officials would continue to look at dates, but there would have to be a “strong argument to get us to move.”

As far as the 54 holes, don’t look for that to last long. Seventy-two holes is near, and look for the Trans-Miss to separate its senior division into its own date and venue, thus enabling the open division to feature a full 144-player field.

“Given a year or two,” Richey said, “we feel the Trans-Miss will get back to where it used to be as one of the premier events on the amateur schedule.”

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