News: Mathis heads home, Wittenberg moves up...

June 03, 2008
PGA TOUR staff

THREE NATIONWIDE TOUR PLAYERS CAPTURE MEDALIST HONORS IN U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING On Monday, three current Nationwide Tour players captured medalist honors in sectional qualifiers for next week's U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif., -- Hunter Haas (Lake Forest, Ill. qualifier), David Hearn (Beallsville, Md.) and Peter Tomasulo (Columbus, Ohio No. 2).


HOMECOMING FOR NO. 1 MATHIS The Raleigh, N.C., area (Morrisville) is home to David Mathis, so this week will be a special one for the Nationwide Tour's leading money winner, who recently won his first Nationwide Tour event (BMW Charity Pro-Am). The 1997 Campbell University business graduate has been on a tear of late. In his last five starts, he has finished tied for 13th, tied for sixth, first, tied for second and tied for 13th, with ties for 24th and 25th in the two preceding events. During this period, he has skyrocketed from 100th on the money list into the top spot. At 34, Mathis is a lock to earn his PGA TOUR card for 2009 after playing full time on the Nationwide Tour since 2006. His performance has improved every year (99th to 47th to first).

18 FOR 18 = PERFECTION AND A WIN Kris Blanks has developed a reputation as one of the better ball strikers on the Nationwide Tour, particularly this year. On Sunday, the Warner Robins, Ga., native hit all 18 greens in regulation to break out of a three-way third-round tie with Skip Kendall and David MacKenzie and capture the biggest win of his career -- the Bank of America Open outside Chicago. For the week, Blanks hit 61 of 72 greens (17/18, 12/18 and 14/18 the first three rounds). "For four days, this is as good as I've ever hit it," he said. The 35-year-old former bartender collected one of the Nationwide Tour's biggest winner's checks, $135,000, to improve 26 spots on the money list to No. 5. His best previous Nationwide Tour finish (a tie for third) came at the same Glen Club last summer. Blanks, who has never played in a PGA TOUR event, made one huge stride toward earning his PGA TOUR card for 2009 via "THE 25." "I can't even imagine what it will be like to tee it up in Hawaii next year... but I'm not going to look at the PGA TOUR just yet," he said.


MORE ON KRIS BLANKS Kris Blanks credited his wife, Tami, for his Bank of America Open victory. A former member of the Ohio State women's golf team and currently a golf professional at Sea Pines Country Club in Hilton Head, S.C., Tami walked the final round with her husband two weeks ago in Maryland and convinced him his game was in great shape and there was nothing he needed to work on. "She told me it was all there for me to win on this Tour."

KRIS AS IN KRIS KRISTOFFERSON How did Kris Blanks get his first name? "I'm named for Kris Kristofferson, the country singer slash actor," he offered to TOUR official Laury Livsey in the latest Nationwide Tour version of SAY WHAT. "My mom thought he was cute. I think the movie "The Rose" was coming out at the time." The full version of Blanks' SAY WHAT can be found here and in this week's issue of TOUR News.

WITTENBERG QUIETLY MOVING UP THE MONEY LIST In his first full season on the Nationwide Tour, Casey Wittenberg is finding the Tour to his liking. With a place to play and a set schedule, the 23-year-old from Memphis is quietly putting himself in position to make the jump to the PGA TOUR next year. In 13 starts to date, he has only missed two cuts. Of the 11 events where he made the cut, he has only been out of the top 20 three times (none since March). Two third-place finishes (including Sunday in Chicago) have helped rise to 12th on the money list.

WON JOON LEE TAKIN' IT DEEP Nationwide Tour grad Bubba Watson's name is usually the first one that comes up when the conversation turns to golf's longest drivers. But you can bet not too many people would guess the name of the next longest driver based on current PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour stats -- Won Joon Lee. Lee, a 22-year-old who was born in South Korea and grew up in Australia, leads the Nationwide Tour stats with a 308.5 yard average. Even his fellow players on the Nationwide Tour take a moment on the range to watch the Tour's second youngest player belt one out of sight. Watson is tops on the PGA TOUR with a 312.3 yard average. No. 2 on the PGA TOUR is J.B. Holmes at 308.2. The Nationwide Tour average of 286.7 exceeds that of the PGA TOUR, which is 283.1. Lee finished runner up in December in the Australian Open along with Brandt Snedeker and Nick O'Hern, one stroke behind champion Craig Parry.


AZINGER GIVES RESPECT TO THE NATIONWIDE TOUR Earlier in the year, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger suggested he wanted the hottest players available on his team this September, regardless of what tour they played on. He reiterated his point again last week at the Memorial Tournament. "If, like I said a few weeks ago, a guy on the Nationwide Tour wins three in a row, and I'm picking the next week, I would be an idiot not to pick that guy. He qualified for the [PGA] TOUR. He just won three in a row on a really hard Tour. And who could be more confident than that guy?"

HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPION TO COMPETE IN REX HOSPITAL OPEN A unique twist to this week's Rex Hospital Open is its Pro-Junior Invitational which awards a spot in the 72-hole competition to the medalist. On Sunday, Wake Forest Rolesville graduate Jordan Walor bested a field that included 18 high school girls and 54 high school boys who were invited based on their performance in events over the last year. The Invitational format featured the young golfers paired with a Nationwide Tour member in each group. Walor, who will play for UNC-Pembroke in the fall, shot 69 to win by a shot.


NATIONWIDE TOUR STILL SEEKING FIRST MULTIPLE WINNER OF 2008 With 13 of 30 events played thus far in 2008, the Nationwide Tour has yet to have its first multiple winner. In 2007, Nick Flanagan became the first to win twice -- doing so at the 10th tournament (BMW Charity Pro-Am), with Roland Thatcher joining him 10 tournaments later (Cox Classic) as the second. HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship winner Darron Stiles and BMW Charity Pro-Am champion David Mathis have come closest to winning for a second time this year. Stiles was runner-up to Colt Knost in the Fort Smith Classic, while Mathis tied for second at the Melwood Prince George's County Open, one stroke behind Jeff Klauk.

"LIBRARY WITH LOVE" The Nationwide Tour Wives Association is hosting "Library with Love", a children's charity book and donation drive to benefit The Rex Hospital Pediatric Center. A donation check will be presented to the tournament during the Tour's visit to Rex Hospital on Tuesday, June 3. Children's books and DVDs with G-PG ratings have been collected at the recent Tour events in Maryland, Chicago and Raleigh.

THIS WEEK IN NATIONWIDE TOUR HISTORY On June 2, 2002, Gary Hallberg tied a Nationwide Tour record when he came from 10-strokes off the pace in the final round to win the Northeast Pennsylvania Classic.

NEXT WEEK The Nationwide Tour is idle next week when the U.S. Open is played at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif., with numerous Tour alumni in the field.