By Brian Hurlburt, Las Vegas Golf Insider
In 2019 as the leaders played the final few holes of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, the flood of fans that filled holes 16-18 at TPC Summerlin was a sight to behold. The spectacle and amount of people was something not seen since 1996, when prodigy-in-the-making Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event, then called the Las Vegas Invitational. This week, the PGA Tour is back in Vegas, but due to Covid-19 protocols, unfortunately there won’t be a large sea of fans welcoming the leaders when play winds down on Sunday,. But the Shriners mission and a high-level of golf still marches on, making the best of the challenging situation. –By Brian Hurlburt, Las Vegas Golf Insider.
When I spoke with tournament director Patrick Lindsey following the 2019 event, his appreciation for the fans and seeing a few years of hard work come to fruition was clearly evident. Lindsey, his team and the Shriners had worked diligently over several years to raise the level of the event and also the quality of the field. The results were proven with the best field in two decades and those spectators enjoying the action as the sun dipped in the sky and the golfers took their final swings.
”To see the mass of people come from holes 16 and 17 after Kevin (Na, the eventual champ) and Patrick (Cantlay) teed off on the 17th tee on Sunday and fill up the hill overlooking 18 was very rewarding,” Lindsey told me the day after the 2019 event.
But continuing to build the fan presentation and participation will have to wait until 2021, as ensuring a safe and TV-friendly event in 2020 are the goals. Plus, the overall mission remains to raise awareness for the work done at the 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children across the United States.
Las Vegas resident and Southern Highlands member Kevin Na is back as defending champ. A strong field that includes all four champions from this season will be aiming to steal his trophy, which he keeps in a special place at home. Na is ready to defend, but is bummed about missing the home-fan advantage.
“(Winning last year) is a great memory,” Na said during a virtual news conference. “You know, everything reminds me about it — the trophy, where it sits in my house, it’s right in front of my master bedroom entrance. Every time I see it it reminds me of the great week I had. I had an unbelievable putting week last year. I set the TOUR record in most feet (of putts) made, and to share that moment with my family at my hometown was
very special. I’m very excited to be back at the Shriners Open. It’s unfortunate that I don’t get to see the fans or play in front of my home crowd.”
In the field with Na are former champions Bryson DeChambeau (2020 US Open champ) and Patrick Cantlay, plus a slew of players with Vegas ties including rising superstar Collin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA Championship winner. He is excited about the Shriners and then also playing another home event next week, the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, which has moved from Asia to Las Vegas for one-year only due to the pandemic. Then the Tour heads to Southern California, his original home.
“It feels good to have a couple weeks off after the U.S. Open, to have this kind of west coast swing,” Morikawa said. “Being Vegas, Vegas, then L.A., it’s pretty much home events for me. There is nothing like sleeping in your own bed, getting out, driving to the course, feeling fresh. I really look forward to playing here at TPC Summerlin. Played it a bunch now. Yeah, I look forward to it. My game is trending in the right direction.”
DeChambeau, the 2018 Shriners champ, is turning the PGA Tour upside down with his added length and this week was bombing drives on the Summerlin practice range over the back fence. He had to move back 30 yards, but it still wasn’t enough to rein in the drives. He will be playing the Summerlin course a bit differently than he did during his win a couple years ago. Plus, he has an eye on Augusta National and the Masters, which is being played in November.
“There will be holes where I’m going to try and drive them, get it up as close to the green as possible,” DeChambeau said about the Shriners. “It’s just fun having a 7-iron go 220. That’s unique. And 4-iron, 265. There will be holes where I had to hit 3-wood and now I’m hitting 4-iron off the tees.
“(At Augusta), I’m looking forward to trying to put in a 48-inch driver and see what that can do for the golf course and what opportunities it will present for me. It’s going well. I think there is a lot of, I don’t know, I guess
you could say advantages to having a 48-inch driver and being able to put it in play and keep it in play.”
The players have a mission within the mission of the Shriners. Here’s to quality action on the course in 2020 and then a sea of fans flooding the final three holes in 2021.
The Shriners Nine
- Former UNLV star Ryan Moore, the 2012 Shriners champ, is not playing.
- Former champs in the field are Kevin Na (2019, 2011), Bryson DeChambeau (2018), Patrick Cantlay (2017), Smylie Kaufman (2015), Webb Simpson (2013), Martin Laird (2009)
- 10 of the top 10 (11 players) in the current FedExCup standings are in the field; only Mackenzie Hughes (T10) is not in the field.
- Rickie Fowler, a member at Summit Club in Las Vegas, owns two top-10 finishes in four starts at TPC Summerlin (T7/2009, T22/2010, T25/2015, T4/2018)
- Part of UNLV’s 1998 NCAA Championship team, Charley Hoffman owns three top-10s in 14 starts at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (T5/2006, 6th/2009, 4th/2013)
- The total purse is $7 million with $1.26 million and 500 FedEx Cup points going to the champ.
- Patrick Cantlay has won in Vegas and also been the runner-up twice: “It’s always nice to be back here playing. The golf course is in about as good a shape as I’ve seen it. Looks like it’s excellent, I think better than any the last three years that I’ve been here. So it’s a golf course I really like. I think it’s good and it rewards a guy who drives the ball really straight. You got to play from the fairway, but if you do, you got a lot of scoring opportunities and you can make a bunch of birdies.”
- Golf Challen televises the action 2 p – 5 p PST daily.
- The list of Vegas players in the field includes
Brian Hurlburt is a two-time author and has chronicled golf in Las Vegas for 25 years.