Notes: Reviews mixed for 2012 N'wide Tour

Russell Henley

Russell Henley

The PGA Tour has proved to be recession-proof. Look no further than Atlanta, where 30 fortunate souls will divvy up $8 million at the Tour Championship and one player will walk away with an eight-figure check for winning the FedEx Cup.

The Nationwide Tour hasn’t been as fortunate. The tour has 26 events this year, the fewest in its history, and a total purse of $16,075,000, the tour’s smallest since 2005. The tour peaked at 32 events in 2007. This year’s purse is $2.25 million less than last year’s and $2.9 million less than the tour’s peak of 2008, when $18,991,094 was up for grabs.

So, with so much less money available, how much must a player earn to finish among the top 25 on this year’s Nationwide Tour money list? The top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards.

Even as purses have fluctuated, one thing has remained fairly constant: the proportion of the 25th position on the money list relative to the tour’s total purse. Since 2000 – when the tour’s purses nearly doubled after Buy.com became the title sponsor – the 25th position has averaged 1.13 percent of the tour’s total purse. That’s $181,647 this year. In that time, the 25th position has never been more than 1.18 percent of the tour’s total purse ($189,685 this year).

If that holds true, the top 13 on this year’s money list – J.J. Killeen, Mathew Goggin, Troy Kelly, Gary Christian, Ted Potter, Kyle Thompson, Erik Compton, Russell Knox, Kyle Reifers, Jonas Blixt, Steve Wheatcroft, John Mallinger and Jason Kokrak – should be safely inside the top 25 at season's end. Kokrak, who won last week’s Boise Open, is 13th on the money list with $187,442.

Brian Smock ($130,717) is currently 25th with five full-field events remaining before the Nationwide Tour Championship. This week’s Soboba Classic has a $750,000 purse, the third-largest on tour.

So, how’s the 2012 Nationwide Tour shaping up after this down year? Reviews seem mixed. The Nationwide Tour recently announced the formation of a new event, the United Leasing Championship, which will be held June 25-July 1, 2012, in Newburgh, Ind. It sounds like some events may not be returning, though.

“We’ve had a lot of renewals this year. It looks like just about everybody is renewing,” Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee told Golfweek. “If you had asked me a couple months ago, I’d have been a little less optimistic. We’ve made a lot of progress.”

Because of the sensitivity surrounding ongoing negotiations, Calfee declined to say which events, if any, were not renewing contracts with the Nationwide Tour.

• • •

Hillcrest Country Club, site of last week’s Boise Open on the Nationwide Tour, measures less than 7,000 yards, but distance was the tournament’s key theme.

Long-drive champion Jamie Sadlowski showed he’s more than a sideshow, making the cut in his first tournament in approximately seven years. He led the field in driving distance with an average tee shot of 349.8 yards, despite toning down his swing to keep his ball in play. “If you were to think of a six-speed car, I was probably going in second gear,” he said.

Such distance should be expected of Sadlowski, who’s on the road more than 200 days per years bashing balls at pro-ams and corporate outings. Making the Boise cut, thanks to a second-round 66 that included two eagles, defied even his own expectations. He finished T-75 with a 3-over 287 total.

“I had zero expectations. It’s not what I do,” Sadlowski, 23, told Golfweek. “For the past year, it hasn’t been the focus, so I haven’t done the work that needs to be done. I’m happy with what I’m doing right now. If one day in the near future, we blow an elbow or something, I would pursue (pro golf), but there’s a lot more guys out there that can shoot 65 every day than fly it 400 yards, so we’re going to stick with (long-drive competitions) for the meantime.”

The man that trailed Sadlowski in driving distance last week, Jason Kokrak, won the tournament, which turned him from a maven of the mini-tours into a likely PGA Tour player. Kokrak, the last player in the Boise Open field, found out Tuesday of tournament week that he was in the event. He was in Denver, in the middle of a cross-country journey from Charlotte to Boise, when he got the call. His 18-under 266 total gave him a two-shot win over John Mallinger.

Kokrak, who averaged 343.6 yards per tee shot last week, played his college golf at Xavier and was medalist at the 2007 U.S. Amateur. He’s been a dominant force on the eGolf Professional Tour the past two seasons while holding partial Nationwide Tour status this season. His length is a large advantage, but controlling it was key to his victory. Kokrak, who said he hits a ‘stock’ 8-iron 180 yards, leads the Nationwide Tour in driving distance (320.3 yards per tee shot).

“I tried to pick and choose where my length was most advantageous,” he said. “The key was picking the right time to be aggressive and the right time to play away from the pins. It was important to leave yourself a lot of uphill putts and also yourself plenty of opportunities.”

Sadlowski also didn’t bomb his way around the Hillcrest Country Club, hitting driver just four or five times per round, opting mostly for the 3-iron, which he hits between 280 and 290 yards. The only par-4 he drove was the 359-yard, par-4 10th in a pre-tournament shootout with John Daly. Sadlowski hit hybrid on the green. He is a +1.1 handicap and has a career-low round of 64.

The Boise Open was just Kokrak’s 11th start of the season. The $130,500 first-place check moved him to 13th on the money list with $187,442. That may be enough for Kokrak, 26, to finish in the top 25 on the Nationwide Tour money list and earn his 2012 PGA Tour card.

Kokrak also leads the eGolf Professional Tour money list despite playing just three events. He’s won twice and finished second in his other start, good for $85,460. He was the tour’s leading money winner in 2010 thanks to eight top-10s, including two victories, in 11 starts.

• • •

John Mallinger needed just five Nationwide Tour starts to crack the top 25 on the money list. Mallinger, who finished 133rd on last year’s PGA Tour money list, is No. 12 on the Nationwide Tour thanks to three consecutive top-three finishes, including a runner-up finish at the Boise Open. Mallinger didn’t have a single top 25 in 13 PGA Tour starts earlier this year until a 12th in the Wyndham Championship. He then finished 3rd-2nd-2nd in three consecutive Nationwide Tour starts. Add a ninth-place finish at the Stadion Classic at UGA, and Mallinger has earned $188,050 on this year’s Nationwide Tour. He’s 12th on the money list, and may have already earned enough to clinch his 2012 PGA Tour card.

• • •

Jonas Blixt's tie for third at the Boise Open was his third top-3 in his past six starts, a hot streak that has moved the 27-year-old Swede from 54th to 10th on the money list and has likely clinched his first PGA Tour card.

Blixt has made six consecutive cuts and has a 67.5 scoring average in that span, including two 62s, a 63 and a 64. He's a combined 91 under par in his past six events. Of the $196,722 he's earned this season, $150,337 has come in his past six events. That's 76.4 percent of his season earnings.

• • •

The Soboba Golf Classic is one of only five full-field events remaining on the 2011 Nationwide Tour schedule. With time running out on the season and a healthy $750,000 purse available this week, 90 of the tour’s top-100 money winners are entered. ... Georgia and Walker Cup teammates Russell Henley and Harris English will make their pro debuts at this week’s Soboba Classic. English accepted Nationwide Tour membership after his victory at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. Henley is competing on a sponsor exemption. Henley could not accept membership because he waited more than 60 days to turn pro after his victory at the Stadion Classic. ... The Soboba Classic is a homecoming of sorts for J.J. Killeen, the Nationwide Tour’s leading money winner. Killeen was born in San Diego, about 1 hour, 45 minutes from the Country Club at Soboba Springs. Killeen has finished fifth in his past two appearances at Soboba.

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