Nationwide notes: Crunch time for N'wide players

Billy Hurley III during the opening round of the 2011 Stadion Classic at UGA.

These are two important weeks for professional golfers. Not because of the FedEx Cup playoffs, which are just a vehicle for making the rich even richer.

This is a fortnight of foremost importance for the toilers on the Nationwide Tour. The Albertsons Boise Open and Soboba Classic are two of the year’s largest purses. Some good play in Idaho and Southern California can go a long way toward helping a player lock up his 2012 PGA Tour card.

“Any time you play well, it’s good,” said Billy Hurley III, No. 19 on the money list, “but there are better times to play well than others, just based on purse size.”

On the PGA Tour, a tournament’s prestige determines its purse; the majors, World Golf Championships and FedEx Cup playoff events offer the largest prizes. The opposite is true on the Nationwide Tour. The amount of money offered determines a tournament’s importance.

The Boise Open is one of four events remaining from the Nationwide Tour’s inaugural 1990 season. The tournament is warmly embraced by the community, especially with Boise State football out of town this week.

“They definitely have a lot of good things going on here,” Hurley said from Boise. “They’ve got all the kinks worked out in 20-some years. They’ve figured out how to do it.”

The Nationwide Tour isn’t a place for nostalgia, though. Is it a great tour? Of course. It’s also a means to an end, in this case a PGA Tour card.

And that’s why Boise’s biggest benefit is its $725,000 purse, the fourth-largest of the Nationwide Tour. Next week’s Soboba Classic, a three-year-old event, offers $750,000. Soboba trails only the Nationwide Tour Championship ($1,000,000) and Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational ($800,000) in purse size. The four events between Soboba and the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship offer purses ranging from $500,000 to $600,000.

“A good week in the next two weeks goes a lot further than a good week the two weeks after this,” Hurley said. “It is what it is. You just try to play good golf.”

Hurley, the Navy graduate who served his country from 2004 to ’09 before resuming his golf career, has had his share of good weeks recently. He has made eight consecutive cuts, finishing in the top 25 in six of those starts. He started his good stretch with a fifth-place finish at the Wichita Open and second at the Chiquita Classic. He tied for fifth in his last start, at the Mylan Classic. He’s earned $134,662 this year, despite missing five of his first six cuts and earning just $2,284 in that span.

The key to his turnaround? A book by noted sports psychologist Bob Rotella. Hurley’s wife, Heather, bought “Your 15th Club” on the Internet. Hurley read the book late last year, then re-read it during his early-season struggles.

“I’m trying to fill my head with things like, ‘You’re a good putter,’ more positive self-talk,” Hurley said. “I believe in myself more. The only thing that really changed was I started working more on my mental game. It’s not like I changed putters or changed my swing.”

Hurley is in good position to earn his first PGA Tour card. Should he be successful, he’d join two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton as a feel-good story among the Nationwide Tour graduates. Compton is No. 7 on the money list, with $221,324, enough to all but ensure his Tour card for next year. Hurley still has work to do. Hurley still has work to do, likely needing to earn about $60,000 more to earn a Tour card.

Hurley is a popular player no matter what tour he’s on. He still gets recognized “a good bit” because of his unique backstory, he said.

“It’s cool to still be representing the Navy and the Naval Academy while being a civilian,” he said. Some good play over the next two weeks will help him represent the Navy on an even higher level: the PGA Tour.

• • •

The Nationwide Tour announced the creation of a new tournament for the 2012 season, the United Leasing Championship at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind. The event, which will be held June 28-July 1, will have a $550,000 purse. A three-year agreement between the Evansville Sports Corporation and the Nationwide Tour has been signed. All four rounds of the event will air on Golf Channel. Victoria National is No. 76 in Golfweek’s Best Modern Courses.

• • •

Harris English, the U.S. Walker Cup team member who won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, will make his pro debut at next week’s Soboba Classic. He has accepted Nationwide Tour membership and will play four events with hopes of qualifying for the Nationwide Tour Championship. He is exempt into the second stage of Q-School. Russell Henley, English’s Georgia and Walker Cup teammate, will also make his pro debut at Soboba. Henley, who won this year’s Stadion Classic on the Nationwide Tour, is playing on a sponsor exemption. Henley can’t become a tour member this year because he turned pro more than 60 days after his victory. He can become a member in 2012, though. Henley also is exempt into the second stage of Q-School. . . . Twelve of the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list are in their 20s, though 21-year-old Danny Lee is the only one younger than 26. Lee is No. 11 on the money list thanks to six top-10s in 13 starts. Nine of the tour’s top 25 are in their 30s, and four are in their 40s. The average age of the Nationwide Tour’s top 25 players? 31.9 years old.

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