Boise, Idaho -- For the first time this season every one of the Nationwide Tour's 50 leading money winners will be in the field this week for the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft. With Hillcrest Country Club as the host, the only 2008 tournament winner not playing is No. 52 on the money list Robert Damron, who has been sidelined due to shoulder surgery since August.
Over the years, the Albertsons Boise Open has proven to be an extremely popular event among the players. In addition to the top 50 players, only one of the Nationwide Tour regulars who are among the top 100 will not be in Boise -- No. 55 Cameron Percy. Boise is one of the Tour's four original stops (Knoxville, Tenn; Springfield, Mo.; and Wichita, Kan.) from the 1990 season that remain on the schedule.
The money list is getting tighter and the pressure to make a move increases with only five full-field events remaining. Brendon de Jonge, No. 1 on the money list with $362,256, has a slim $735 advantage over Jarrod Lyle. A lot can change this week with a $725,000 purse and $130,500 going to the winner. The only event left on the schedule with a larger purse is the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas (Dallas area). It will feature a $1,000,000 purse.
With the Nationwide Tour Championship just around the corner, those players in and around the 60th spot on the money list will need to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Only the top-60 money leaders will earn an invite to the TPC Craig Ranch. Every player who makes it to the grand finale in early November is assured of fully-exempt status on the Nationwide Tour next year and has a mathematical chance of moving into "The 25" which will secure a 2009 PGA TOUR card.
Since the field is so deep this week it's tough to single out one player to watch. Two-time winners Jarrod Lyle and Colt Knost are always favorites given they are just one win away from a promotion to the PGA TOUR. But how about Boise's own Ryan Hietela? He won the Cox Classic in July and sits at No. 17 on the money list after finishing tied for second at last week's Utah Championship. The former University of Texas-El Paso All-American opened up with a 7-under-par 64 in last year's first round. His wife, Jennifer, caddied for him all four rounds and plans to do so again this week. Despite finishing tied for 41st, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Hietala said that playing in front of a hometown crowd does not add any pressure.
"Having everyone out there relaxes me," Hietala said a year ago. "I know my friends and family are here. I know Jennifer is on the bag and there is no added pressure. It makes me calm. I know a lot of players don't play well in their hometown event, but I seem to do better when playing at home."
Charity has always been front and center with the tournament organizers in Boise. Since 1990, the Albertsons Boise Open has donated $8.4 million to charity and set a single season mark for the Nationwide Tour last year when it donated $2,026,000.
The Albertsons Boise Open will be on the Golf Channel all four days starting this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET.
Next week the Nationwide Tour hops on the Oregon Trail for the Oregon Classic presented by Kendall Automotive Group.