Insider: College stars excited to play at Children's HospitalMorgan Hoffman, one of the college players in the field this week, also played on the PGA TOUR this year at the U.S. Open.July 21, 2010
John Dell, Nationwide Tour Insider
The college stars who will be a part of the Nationwide Tour tournament this week will likely see a glimpse of their future.
In one of the more unique tournaments of the season, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational invites this past season's All-America selections from the College Golf Coaches Association's teams.
This week, 11 of them, as well as Nathan Smith, a 2009 Walker Cup member, will give the 144-player field plenty of young stars in the making.
Kip McBride, the tournament director, said the idea to add the college All-Americans has brought a lot of excitement to the tournament through the years.
In 2008 Daniel Summerhays, who was a Brigham Young junior at the time, wound up winning as an amateur, the first time it had happened in the history of the Tour.
This year's amateurs at Nationwide Children's Hospital Bud Cauley (Alabama) John Chin (UC-Irvine) Dustin Garza (Wichita State) Russell Henley (Georgia) Morgan Hoffman (Oklahoma State) Scott Langley (Illinois) Andrea Pavan (Texas A&M) Jonathan Randolph (Mississippi) Patrick Reed (Augusta State) Nathan Smith (2009 Walker Cup) Peter Uihlein (Oklahoma State) Diego Velasquez (Oregon State)
"This will be our fourth year doing this with the college players and it's been well received," McBride said. "It just adds a little something."
Some of the past college players who competed in this tournament are now stars on the Nationwide Tour. Among those are Kyle Stanley, Kevin Chappell, Chris Kirk and Jamie Lovemark. Kirk, Chappell and Lovemark rank 2nd, 3rd and 4th on the current money list while Stanley, a rookie on the Nationwide Tour, is 33rd on the money list.
Bill Calfee, the Nationwide Tour president, says there was no one person responsible for the idea of giving exemptions to the college players.
"It was a collaborate effort and we knew that with Nationwide sponsoring this event we wanted to make it a little different and we've been thrilled with how's it worked out," Calfee said. "And with Ohio State and its golf course and how big amateur golf means to so many in this area -- it made a lot of sense."
Among the college players who made the cut last year is Morgan Hoffman of Oklahoma State, who is back again in this week's field. Hoffman finished tied for eighth after putting together solid rounds of 70-69-70-70. He'll have plenty of confidence going into his second Nationwide Tour tournament.
One of Hoffman's teammates, Peter Uihlein, is the top-ranked amateur according to the R&A World Amateur Golf rankings. There are seven players among the R&A's top 10 competing in Columbus this week.
Uihlein, who played in a PGA TOUR tournament in 2006 at the Buick Open at the TPC River Highlands in Connecticut, missed the cut after shooting 72-74. This will be his first Nationwide Tour tournament.
"This is a great perk for us college guys to play here," said Uihlein, who will be a junior next season at Oklahoma State. "Hoff and I were playing together in a practice round and we were talking about how cool it was to get a chance to be out here."
Uihlein says that it wasn't that long ago when many of the Nationwide Tour stars were playing junior golf. "I can remember when I was just kind of hitting the big junior tournaments and guys like Kyle Stanley, Jamie Lovemark and Bobby Gates were out there," he said. "Now I'm seeing them again and how successful they are on this Tour so that's cool to see."
Uihlein says he has no expectations, other than to learn more about his game.
"I just want to have fun and soak it up," he said. "When I played in that Buick Open I was impressed with how patient those guys were and with their short games and it's the same way for the Nationwide Tour guys."
Also playing is Scott Langley, who is from the University of Illinois. Langley, the NCAA individual champion, qualified for the U.S. Open this summer where he tied for 16th.
Langley, who will be a senior in the fall, says that getting the chance to compete in a Nationwide Tour tournament is a big deal.
"I think it's great opportunity for all of us to get our feet wet so when we do turn professional we'll kind of know what to expect," Langley said.
Langley played a practice round with Steve Stricker, a former Nationwide Tour player who also played at Illinois, at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Langley said Stricker is one of his mentors, and it's not just because Stricker is the fourth-ranked golfer in the Official World Golf Ranking.
"We didn't talk about golf much but we talked a lot about when he went to Illinois and stuff like that," Langley said. "I'm so impressed with how he treats people, and he's just been a real role model for me."
Langley enjoyed a great week at the U.S. Open and he hopes to use that experience this week. He played the golf course in his junior-golf days on the American Junior Golf Association Tour, and he also played there his freshman year in college.
Langley has great respect for the Nationwide Tour players and is looking forward to trying to compete.
"They are all great players out there on the Nationwide Tour and they are doing something we all want to do some day," Langley said. "I definitely know I have things I need to improve on so this is a chance to maybe gain some confidence."
Langley, 21, who is from St. Louis, said he will stay an amateur until after his senior season at Illinois, but his goal is simple this summer.
"I want to try and improve every day and on the larger scale I want to one day play on the PGA TOUR or the Nationwide Tour, but I have to get better every day," Langley said. "I want to be one of the best players in the world, and playing in a tournament like this will only help me."
Another bonus for the college players is if they choose to they can give up their amateur status and turn pro this week. Calfee said that even though they earned their spots with outstanding college seasons, they have that option.
"We are about giving young players an opportunity," Calfee said, "and were about finding the future stars of the game."
John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 17 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.