Nationwide Tour history

February 29, 2008
PGA TOUR staff

Even the most optimistic person couldn't have forseen the success of the Nationwide Tour when it kicked off its inaugural season on Thursday, Feb. 2, 1990 at 7:30 a.m. PST at Bakersfield Country Club in Bakersfield, Calif.

The Nationwide Tour began under corporate sponsorship of the Ben Hogan Company as the Ben Hogan Tour. The idea of former PGA TOUR Commissioner Deane R. Beman, the Nationwide Tour was designed as a proving ground for up-and-coming golfers, as well as a place for PGA TOUR veterans to hone their skills as they prepared for the Champions Tour. It has become so much more than that.

john_daly.jpg

For the first two years of the Tour, the top five money winners were awarded PGA TOUR membership. Beginning in 1992, the PGA TOUR Tournament Policy Board voted that, due to the success graduating players had on the PGA TOUR, that number would be increased to 10; and in 1997 the number was increased to 15. In 2003, 20 players earned their 2004 TOUR cards, and that number increased to 25 in 2007.

That first event in 1990 was won by Mike Springer, who went on to win two more times that year and finish fourth on the money list. He was joined in the first graduating class by Jim McGovern, Dick Mast, Ed Humenik and Jeff Maggert, who was leading money-winner and Player of the Year.

However, the player who made the biggest impact on the PGA TOUR from the 1990 Tour was John Daly, winner of the only Ben Hogan Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Daly won the PGA Championship as a rookie and went on to finish 17th on the 1991 PGA TOUR money list. Since then, he has added four more victories, including another major championship, the 1995 British Open.

Tom Lehman first established himself as a top-flight player on the 1991 Tour. After two nondescript years on the PGA TOUR in the early 1980s, Lehman won a tournament on the 1990 Tour. But 1991 was the breakthrough season in his comeback. He won three times that year and was the circuit's leading money-winner.

Californian John Flannery was the dominant player on the 1992 Tour, winning three times and leading the Tour in earnings with $164,114. His successful campaign made him the Tour's third Player of the Year.

On Aug. 26, 1992 Nike Inc., took over sponsorship of the Tour beginning with the 1993 season. Sean Murphy was the star of the 1993 Tour. He set records for wins in a season with four, career victories with five, and single-season earnings with $166,293. He added a sixth title in 1995.

tom_lehman.jpg

While Murphy was busy setting records, his fellow Tour alumni were busy making names for themselves on the PGA TOUR. Daly had already collected his second career win in the 1992 B.C. Open, and others were beginning to earn their own hardware. McGovern, Mike Standly and Maggert all earned PGA TOUR titles in 1993, while Springer and Greg Kraft grabbed a pair of unofficial wins.The Tour Championship also was established in 1993 as a climax to the season.

Rookie David Duval won the first Tour Championship, which featured only the top 50 money-winners during the year.

On the 1994 Tour, Chris Perry showed that consistency has its own rewards.Although six players collected multiple victories that year, Perry's lone title in the Utah Classic and his consistent strong play over the course of the season earned him Player of the Year honors. He set a single-season earnings record with $167,148 and collected 10 top-10 finishes. He made every cut that season.

The 1994 Tour season saw a number of firsts. In June, Tommy Armour III became the first player to win back-to-back tournaments -- the Miami Valley Open and Cleveland Open. During the second round of the 1994 Shreveport Open, Omar Uresti set a record with nine consecutive birdies. That not only stands as the Nationwide Tour standard, it surpassed the records on the PGA TOUR, Champions Tour or European Tour.

In May, Vic Wilk became the first left-hander to win an event, the Knoxville Open. Jerry Kelly continued the trend of the leading money-winner setting an earnings record in 1995, when he earned $188,878 to better Perry's year-old record. Besides winning twice, Kelly posted 15 top-10 finishes.

Stewart Cink was the top story of the 1996 Tour season. The 1995 NCAA Player of the Year became the first player in Nationwide Tour history to earn more than $200,000 in a single season with $251,699. He won three times, including the season-ending Tour Championship, and collected 14 top-10 finishes in only 21 events.

david_duval.jpg

The 1997 season began with the announcement that the PGA TOUR Policy Board had increased the number of TOUR exemptions onto the PGA TOUR from 10 to 15, further enhancing the Tour's reputation as a proving ground for the next generation of PGA TOUR champions.

The 1997 season also marked the first year of the three-win promotion, which grants immediate access to the PGA TOUR for any player who wins three Nationwide Tour events in a season. Chris Smith was the first player to earn this promotion. On the Nationwide Tour, Smith had a record-breaking season. He won at the Upstate Classic, and captured the Dakota Dunes Open and Omaha Classic in back-to-back weeks. With the wins at Dakota Dunes and Omaha, he joined Armour and Jerry Haas as the only players to win consecutive tournaments. He also became the first player to win the same tournament twice, having won the Dakota Dunes Open in 1995.

In October, Steve Flesch joined Wilk as the only left-handed champions. Flesch won the season-ending Tour Championship. That victory vaulted him from 24th on the money list to fourth, earning him 1998 PGA TOUR membership.

The 1998 season saw more of the kind of action for which the Nationwide Tour has become known. During a three-week period late in the spring, Notah Begay III and Doug Dunakey caught the attention of the golf world when each recorded a 59 in competition. Begay's 13-under-par 59 came in the second round of the Dominion Open. Amazingly, Dunakey could have had the record on his own, with only a three-putt bogey on his final hole keeping him from posting an incredible 58.

Bob Burns was named 1998 Player of the Year after leading in earnings with $178,664 and winning at the Dominion Open and Tour Championship.

The 1999 season saw Carl Paulson establish a new record for consecutive starts with 83. The 83rd start was a significant one as Paulson recorded his first-ever Nationwide Tour victory at the Utah Classic. That win, and another two weeks later at the Boise Open, vaulted Paulson to the top of the money list. His efforts were rewarded when his peers selected him as the Player of the Year. Seven players won twice on the Tour in 1999, and a record 22 players earned more than $100,000.

The season-ending Tour Championship was a thrilling affair played at the Robert Trent Jones Trail Highland Oaks Golf Club in Dothan, Ala. Bob Heintz won his second event of the season in a playoff with Dawson to take home the largest first-place prize in Tour history -- $72,000.

heath_slocum.jpg

In late October, Internet superstore Buy.com was announced as the new umbrella sponsor of the Tour. With Buy.com's financial contribution, purses rose to a record $13.1 million in 2000, with the minimum weekly purses jumping from $225,000 to $400,000. On the course, the 2000 season saw Spike McRoy earn Player of the Year honors after winning twice and earning a record $300,638. He was one of 53 players to earn $100,000 or more.

Along the way, Tim Clark made a little history of his own when he collected the first $100,000 payday on the Tour by winning the Boise Open. The 2000 season was also notable for the emergence of international players who captured nine titles and claimed four of the top 15 spots on the money list.

The 2001 season was an historic one for the Tour. For only the second time, a player earned a promotion to the PGA TOUR by winning three times in one season. Heath Slocum's third win made him the first player since Smith (1997) to earn an automatic promotion to the TOUR.

Once the field was shown the way, others followed. First, Chad Campbell earned his third win and moved on, and then Pat Bates won back-to-back tournaments to end the year and became the third player in 2001 to jump to the PGA TOUR. Slocum set a Tour record by going 106 consecutive holes without making a bogey, while Todd Barranger tied the scoring mark by winning the Dayton Open with a 26-under-par effort. Along the way, Campbell set a single-season earnings record with $394,552 to earn Player of the Year honors. He also finished second at the PGA TOUR's season-ending Southern Farm Bureau Classic.

The 2001 season also saw the Tour move to Canada for the first time with the Samsung Canadian PGA Championship in suburban Toronto.

In 2002, the Tour added tournaments in Australia and New Zealand for the first time. In addition, tournaments were allowed to sell individual title sponsorships for the first time.

Patrick Moore won three times and earned Player of the Year honors. A record 12 players earned $200,000 or more. Alums continued to excel winning a one-season record 21 times in 2002.

The season ended on a high note with the announcement of a new umbrella sponsor, Nationwide. The five-year agreement started with the 2003 season, and the Tour not only sported a new name and logo but it awarded 20 PGA TOUR cards to its graduates.

jason_gore.jpg

The 2003 season featured 30 events, with purses in excess of $14.7 million. New events were staged in Canada (Calgary), Chattanooga, Tenn., and Miami, with Panama joining in 2004.

Tom Carter became only the sixth player to earn a three-win promotion to the PGA TOUR, but to show the strength of the Tour he wasn't even the Player of the Year. Zach Johnson won that honor after setting a new Tour record for earnings, with $494,882. He had two wins and nine top-three finishes in his 20 starts while setting a new Tour scoring record, as well. He finished with a 68.97 average. Jimmy Walker was the 2004 Player of the Year and leading money winner, as well as one of five multiple winners during the season. Alums continued to excel, winning a record 22 PGA TOUR titles, while the Class of 2003 made history with five members winning on TOUR, seven earning at least $1 million and eight finishing in the top 125 on the money list.

Daniel Chopra set a Tour record with his 30-under performance at the Henrico County Open, while Tyler Williamson and Chris Nallen each fired 60s and narrowly missed joining the slim ranks of players to fire competitive 59s.

Jason Gore was the story of the 2005 season as he captured the hearts of golf fans everywhere with his U.S. Open performance. He followed that with a record-setting three consecutive victories on the Nationwide Tour and fired a 59 in winning the final one. He completed his season with a victory on the PGA TOUR and earned Nationwide Tour Player of the Year honors. In any other season, Troy Matteson probably would have walked off with that honor. He won twice, finished in the top 10 a dozen times and set a new single-season earnings record of $495,009.

New events in Rochester, N.Y., and Cleveland, Ohio, made their debut.

The 2006 season featured three new events in California, Georgia and South Carolina, and a 31-tournament slate that played for nearly $17 million.

Ken Duke and Johnson Wagner battled throughout the season for top honors,with Duke eventually emerging as the leading money winner and earning Player of the Year honors.

Five players won twice -- Wagner, Tripp Isenhour, Craig Kanada, Brandt Snedeker and Kevin Stadler -- with a record 10 players earning more than $300,000 and 22 collecting $200,000 or more.

The Class of 2005 made its mark on the PGA TOUR, with 12 of the 21 graduates finishing among the top 125 on the money list. Included in that group were Chris Couch, Eric Axley and Troy Matteson -- who each won on the TOUR. Those three were among eight 2005 graduates who collected $1 million or more in 2006.

zach_johnson.jpg

On-course success was exceeded only by the good news that Nationwide and the PGA TOUR reached a new five-year extension on Nationwide's position as the umbrella sponsor of the Tour through 2012.

In 2007, the Tour played for a record $18 million in prize money and a record 25 PGA TOUR cards were awarded at season's end. Australia's Nick Flanagan earned a three-win promotion in August to the PGA TOUR and later earned Player of the Year honors. Richard Johnson won the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship at Barona Creek to capture the money title. Roland Thatcher and Kyle Thompson both won twice in securing their TOUR cards for 2008. Another Aussie, Jason Day, 19, became the youngest winner in Nationwide Tour history in July by winning the Legend Financial Group Classic. Five of the top-seven money winners were international members, and eight players surpassed $300,000 in earnings, with 24 reaching the $200,000 plateau. Snedeker, a 2006 graduate, earned PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year honors, while 16 of the 22 members of this class earned spots in the 2007 PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. Johnson, the 2003 Player of the Year, won the Masters.

The 2008 schedule features 30 tournaments that offer nearly $19 million in prize money. New events come on board in Canada and Mexico, and the Tour will play for $1-million purses at the Nationwide Tour Players Cup in West Virginia and the Nationwide Tour Championship at TPC Craig Ranch.