Never Too Early to Think Top 15


TRAVELERS REST, S.C. -- Here we are again with the ever-improving and ever-growing Buy.Com Tour. This week, it's stop No. 5 on the schedule at the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs. The Cliffs Valley course sits below the Blue Ridge Mountain range and has some spectacular views.
I can't help but think back to this event last year, however. Jonathan Byrd was a relative unknown at the time. But the Clemson Tiger turned in weekend rounds of 66-66 to win the event which helped to springboard him up to the PGA Tour for 2002.
The reason Byrd's name keeps popping into my mind is that this tour's charm lies mostly in the 'unknown.' From year-to-year we never really know who the next Jonathan Byrd is going to be. A few years ago it was Mark Hensby, who is back on the Buy.Com Tour this year after a tough first year on the PGA Tour. And of course even further back are names like Jeff Maggert and Tom Lehman.
Who knew that Ian Leggett would parlay his successful 2001 Buy.Com season into a win on the PGA Tour this year in Tucson? Or that Garrett Willis could do the same thing last year at the very same tournament?
In fact, it was just a few days ago that Heath Slocum made the pros on this tour proud by nearly winning at Hilton Head Island. Last year Slocum won three times on the Buy.Com Tour and secured himself a card for the big tour.
For all the success stories, the unknown also means players you figured for long, uninterrupted careers on the PGA Tour. This week's field at The Cliffs Valley Course in Travelers Rest, S.C., includes names like Tommy Tolles, Dave Stockton, Jr., and Mike Heinen. Tolles nearly made the Ryder Cup in 1997 and nearly won that year in New Orleans and Ponte Vedra at The Players Championship. Stockton, Jr., nearly won in Hartford, Conn. - not once, but twice. And Heinen is a past winner of the Shell Houston Open. Still, all are here this week competing again on the tour that was supposed to jumpstart long careers at the highest level.
So perhaps this week we should pay closer attention to names like Jace Bugg, who Monday-qualified his way to victory a week ago. And Gavin Coles, who won the year's first event in Adelaide, South Australia. For that matter, Steven Alker is here as well, having upended Heinen in Louisiana just a few weeks ago.
These three winners might just be the ones we're talking about late in the year as members of the coveted 'top 15.' And remember, every Jonathan Byrd gets his momentum somewhere. If you need more proof, ask Craig Perks!