SIKESTON -- The 2003 Health Facilities Rehab Outpatient Center Classic kicks off today at the Bootheel Golf Club. The tournament will run through Sunday, with the top golfer pocketing $20,000 for first place.
So what will it take to win this year's NGA/Hooters event?
"These guys are so good, I think all the par-fives are reachable in two," said Bootheel pro Jeff Ketterman. "If they birdie all the par-fives, I say they're going to be somewhere between 20 and 25 under par to win this thing."
From the players' perspective, this year's tournament will be decided by who best plays the conditions.
"The wind is the most difficult part of the golf course," said tour pro Todd Vernon. "It sounds like south, southwest winds are pretty predominant. Three of the par-fives play in that direction, which should make the scoring a little bit lower than it normally would be. The fairways are pretty narrow, and the rough is a little bit unpredictable. Getting the ball on the fairway to give us a nice shot to the green is going to be a challenge this week."
If anybody is up to the challenge, it should be Vernon. The tour rookie from Greenwood Village, Colo., won last week's Hooters event in Mishicot, Wis., finishing the 72-hole tournament with a score of 267, which is 21-under par. Vernon opened the final round with a six stroke lead and held off a strong charge from Knoxville's Jake Reeves by birdying five of his last seven holes.
Now, he hopes to keep the momentum going this week in Sikeston.
"I'm just going to try and keep doing what I'm doing," said Vernon. "Hopefully the putts will keep falling in."
Of course the entire field is hoping Michael Connell doesn't come out and run away with the tournament again. The 37-year-old Texas native put on a show the last time he was in Sikeston, firing a 61 in the third round on his way to an astounding 31-under par performance.
"There are some really good, young players on this tour right now," said Connell. "You can expect to see some low scores. The course is a bunch of six, seven, eight and nine irons, with several reachable par-fives. There will definitely be some low scores."
Rounds will start at 7:30 a.m. each day, and are expected to finish up around 6 p.m. Admission to the tournament is free. "We want to remind everybody this is free, and we encourage everybody to come out," said Ketterman. "Also, you will get a chance to register to win a full free membership out here. You will see some good golf and also have a chance to benefit all year if you win the membership."
Registration for the free membership will take place at the Bootheel pro shop. After three successful days of events, Ketterman hopes for four solid tournament rounds to end the week on a high note.
"We're just really excited," said Ketterman. "The sponsorship here in town has been tremendous. Health Facilities, Food Giant, Sabona, Coca-Cola, Ralph Distributing and many others have done a marvelous job. We're real pleased with the way things have gone so far."