Mar 21, 2013 12:00 AM by McD Media
Acadiana's premier professional sports event gets serious here Thursday when the 22nd annual Chitimacha Louisiana Open begins championship play at Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club.
The $550,000 Web.com Tour event runs through Sunday with a 144-player field gunning for the $99,000 first prize, with both the total purse and the winner's share equaling the largest in Open history. Play will begin at 7:40 a.m. off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees at the 7,067-yard par-71 Le Triomphe layout.
"We think we've got the strongest overall field we've ever had," said Open executive director Danny Jones. "We've got a lot of guys that have had success on both the PGA Tour and the Web.com Tour, especially with the Tour's new structure.
"We've also got a lot of names that people here in Acadiana may see for the first time this week, and they'll be the same names that they'll see playing on TV later this year and who will be very successful players on the PGA Tour in the next few years. Our fans will get a chance to experience truly world-class golf."
The numbers bear that out. The field includes 18 players who have won PGA Tour events, with that group combining for 39 wins on the "big" tour. A total of 54 players in the field - almost 40 percent - have won championships on the Web.com Tour, and the field can boast a combined 152 victories on either the PGA or Web.com Tour.
In addition, the field includes the champions of all three previous Web.com Tour events this season - Kevin Foley of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., at the Panama Claro Championship, Patrick Cantlay of Long Beach, Calif., at the Colombia Championship, and Kevin Kisner of Aiken, S.C., at the Chile Classic two weeks ago in Santiago, Chile.
The Louisiana Open is the first U.S. stop on the 25-tournament Web.com Tour this year following the three opening events in Latin America, and has become the traditional kickoff on "home" soil for the Tour. That fact, and its scheduling opposite the limited-field Arnold Palmer Invitational in the PGA Tour means that the Open has traditionally drawn one of the strongest on the Web.com Tour.
This year, though, with the new restructuring of qualifying procedures to achieve PGA Tour status that makes the Web.com Tour the "path to the PGA Tour" - all 50 available PGA Tour cards for the 2013-14 season will come through the Web.com Tour - the Open field top-to-bottom is likely the strongest in its 22-year history.
Six former champions are in the field, including the Open's only two-time champion in former U.S. Ryder Cupper Brett Wetterich who will look to add to his 2003 and 2011 crowns. That former winner group also includes 2009 winner Bubba Dickerson, who finished third behind Wetterich in 2011 and has half of his top-three career finishes at Le Triomphe.
"I like this course," said Dickerson, who will be making his 2013 debut after not playing the three Latin America events. "I can see the lines and see the reads on these greens pretty good. But anywhere you go back where you've won and done well, you feel good starting the week."
The other returning champions are 2008 winner Gavin Coles, 2007 champion Skip Kendall, 2005 champion and former Lafayette resident Ryan Hietala, and 2001 winner and two-time runner-up Paul Claxton.
Tour veterans Chris DiMarco, Billy Mayfair and Joe Ogilvie are among the players who missed out on the priority list for the Arnold Palmer meet and are entered here. That group also includes two-time major champion John Daly, who is certain to draw one of the biggest galleries when play begins Thursday.
The field also includes several players with local ties, including three Lafayette players who are paired together for the first two rounds. Former UL standout Michael Smith and Brian Rowell, who played in the 2011 and 2012 U.S. Open respectively, will join with Matt Berry, who earned a spot in the Gulf States PGA Section's Closed Qualifier.
"We've all got expectations," said Berry, a former staff member at Le Triomphe. "Making the cut would be an achievement, but my major goal is just to enjoy the experience and everything surrounding it."
Rowell made the cut in both of his two previous appearances in the Open in 2006 and 2011, while Smith made the cut in 2010.
There is also a solid Baton Rouge contingent, led by Tour veteran Scott Sterling and the LSU tandem of Andrew Loupe and John Peterson. Sterling is making his 10th appearance in the Open, after twice finishing in the top 10 including a tie for 9th in 2009.
Loupe is a full-time Web.com Tour member this year after finishing tied for 13th in last year's Open as a Monday qualifier, while Peterson - the 2011 NCAA individual champion for the Tigers - is making his first appearance here after playing in the Tour's three Latin American events.
Another ex-UL standout, Andrew Noto of Luling, made his way into the field as one of the 14 Monday qualifiers - out of 279 players who tried to qualify - and is also playing in his first Open.
The field will be cut to the low 60 and ties following Friday's second round. Last year, it took a four-under-par score through two rounds (138) to make the cut - the lowest since Le Triomphe was completely renovated following the 2003 tournament.
Daily tickets are $10 and are available at the parking area next to the Le Triomphe main gate. Parking is available adjacent to the front gate for a $5 donation to Civitan Club charities.