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SARATOGA SPRINGS - Growing up in St. George and watching Mike Reid, Dennis Paulson and Jay Don Blake win the Utah Open before going on to solid PGA Tour careers, Nick McKinlay figured the golf tournament was "about as huge as it gets" for a local pro.
After winning the event last year at
TalonsCove Golf Course, the 30-year-old still feels that way, but was reminded last month at the Salt Lake City Open that being the reigning Utah Open champion doesn't carry as much clout as it used to.
McKinlay's last name was misspelled on the leaderboard at Wingpointe G.C., which would have been forgivable except for the fact that he had won that tournament the previous year.
"No big deal," he said.
If Utah Open organizers get their wish, the tournament will be a big deal again. But that's a double-edged sword, too. Utah Section PGA officials took over the Utah Open - which begins Friday and runs through Sunday at TalonsCove - six years ago with the idea of preserving the event for its members and apprentices.
That plan is working well, as Utah's club pros and top amateurs get a chance to play in a true state tournament, with relatively few out-of-staters attracted by the purse of roughly $100,000 (this year's winner will get between $15,000 and $20,000).
Trouble is, as the purse grows and the tournament returns to the status it held in the 1980s and '90s, it will become less of a state open and more of a minitour event, like the Colorado Open.
"It's kind of a delicate balance," said Scott Whittaker, the Utah Section PGA's executive director.
The big lure now, McKinlay says, is the exemption into the EnergySolutions Utah Championship on the Nationwide Tour in September, something officials added last year.
"In all honesty, the [first-place] check is nice, but my goal is to get the Nationwide exemption again," he said, after having played well at Willow Creek last year before missing the cut by three shots. "To me, that's more important than anything else."
McKinlay's 14-under-par total of 202 last year edged Jeff Keye by a shot and Chris Moody and Garrett Clegg by two, and he figures a similar score - or something in the 200 range if the wind is calm - will win it this time.
The field of pros is probably a bit stronger, but several of the state's top amateurs are not entered this year. For instance, Brigham Young golfer Daniel Summerhays and Clay Ogden and Utah golfer Dustin Pimm are not in the field because they are required to attend NCAA orientation meetings on Friday in preparation for the 2006-07 college season.
State Amateur champion Tony Finau will be there, though, along with UVSC golfer Chris Cole, who was the medalist at Monday's qualifying with a 68 at South Mountain G.C.
At TalonsCove Golf Course,
Admission is free
Friday: First round begins at 7:30 a.m.
Saturday: Second round (field cut to low 60 and ties after 36 holes)
Sunday: Final round
Friday's First-Round Pairings
No. 1 Tee
7:30 a.m. - Brad Asplund, James Kilgore, Quentin Sasser
7:39 a.m. - Tyler Dalton, Jeremy Green, Derek Penman
7:48 a.m. - Ron Branca, Ken Clark, Lynn Landgren
7:57 a.m. - Mike Bicker, Joey Bonsignore, Bill Cox
8:06 a.m. - Aaron Allred, Todd Mullen, Chris Stover
8:15 a.m. - John Fillmore, Eric Lyman, William Wirt
8:24 a.m. - Bob Rudd, Glen Spencer, Brent Wootton
8:33 a.m. - Steve Elliott, Reed McArthur, Wes Ruff
8:42 a.m. - Scott Erling, Todd Meyer, Vaughn Robinson
8:51 a.m. - Jared Barnes, Colby Cowan, Allen Enochson
9 a.m. - Justin Bloxham, Jeff Green, Chris Moody
9:09 a.m. - Clark Garso, Danny Miller, Wade Olsen
9:18 a.m. - Kelly Class, Kent Easton, Neil Economy
No. 1 Tee
12:30 p.m. - Del Olmo, Nick McKinlay, Todd Tanner
12:39 p.m. - James Blair, Keith Clearwater, Brett Wayment
12:48 p.m. - Mike Borich, Mike Malaska, Doug Roberts
12:57 p.m. - Tommy Johnson, J.B. Sneve, Kim Thompson
1:06 p.m. - Roy Christensen, Ryan Ellis, Zach Johnson
1:15 p.m. - Tyler Aldridge, Oscar Alvarez, Pete Stone
1:24 p.m. - Ken Abegglen, Ryan Rhees, Troy Watkins
1:33 p.m. - Tom Costello, Craig Sarlo, Dustin Volk
1:42 p.m. - Bobby Casper, Scott Fairbanks, Jeff Thomsen
1:51 p.m. - Scott Brandt, Ryan Colemere, Dave DeSantis
2 p.m. - David Hall, Ryan Kartchner, Brent Moyes
2:09 p.m. - Aaron Brown, Keith LaCome, Matt Lyons
2:18 p.m. - Eric Nielsen, Brad Stone, Henry White
No. 10 Tee
7:30 a.m. - Chris Cole, Tadd Cox, Ashton Wood
7:39 a.m. - Jeff Jolley, Tyson Lund, Kirk Siddens
7:48 a.m. - Naikoa Cooper, Jon Fister Jr., Joseph Summerhays
7:57 a.m. - Mark Boggs, Adam Johnson, Aaron Moreno
8:06 a.m. - Garrett Clegg, Jeff Keye, JR Shears
8:15 a.m. - Jason Asplund, David Booth, John Payne
8:24 a.m. - Brad Bills, Barry Conser, Darci Dehlin
8:33 a.m. - Jeff Bricker, Steve Jurgensen, Corey Matthews
8:42 a.m. - Matthew Chang, Benjamin Krug, Brady Machin
8:51 a.m. - Brady Boman, Chris Dean, Adrian Wadey
9 a.m. - Gipper Finau, Stuart Gold, Danny Lopez
9:09 a.m. - Matt Baird, Clint Maddox, Nic Van Vuuren
9:18 a.m. - Andrew Barton, Greg Buckner, Brendan Dennis
No. 10 Tee
12:30 p.m. - Greg Buckway, Carl Jensen, Jeremy Richmond
12:39 p.m. - Shyler Andreason, Clark Rustand, Barry Schenk
12:48 p.m. - Clay Bingham, Michael Bruchet, Patrick Murphy
12:57 p.m. - Zach Blair, J.C. Fillmore, Tony Finau
1:06 p.m. - Dan Horner, Ricky Lanning, Triston Paxman
1:15 p.m. - Roger Harrison, Matt McPhie, Matt Phillips
1:24 p.m. - Guy Shaw, Andrew Smith, Matt Stalsburg
1:33 p.m. - Chris Marx, Luke Swilor, Robert Wallis
1:42 p.m. - Mark Owen, Brady Stanger, Marco Stevanoni
1:51 p.m. - James Hood, Eric Johnson, Ben Painter
2 p.m. - Mitch Jensen, Rod Zundel, Ned Siegfried
2:09 p.m. - Mike Behle, Jeff Hassett, Brecken Varah
2:18 p.m. - Wade Cowan, Adam Handgren, Phillip King