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On the eve of nationals, Big Break gals share wisdom with Am Tour competitors

Am Tour Big Break
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ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 28: Hunter Mahan plays a bunker shot on the 14th hole during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge on March 28, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)  - 

Stephanie Sparks and Charlie Rymer with Big Break's Shannon Fish, Alison Micheletti entertain the crowd on the eve of the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships. 

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- On the eve of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship's open division, the competitors got a little bit of advice from a few players who recently learned a thing or two about playing under pressure.

At a dinner welcoming a record 636 players to the 2012 event, four of the dozen women of this year's Big Break Atlantis were special guests and shared their experiences, hopes and dreams with the packed ballroom at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, which is the host hotel and headquarters for the event.

Christina Stockton was particularly candid about her nerves, which nearly got the best of her at times. She ultimately battled them successfully on Big Break Atlantis, making it all the way to the ninth episode before being eliminated.

'You can be nervous and hit good golf shots,' said Stockton, from Rocklin, Calif. 'You just have to accept your nerves and deal with it.'

Sunday night, the women appeared anything but nervous. Besides Stockton, Big Break Atlantis was also represented on Sunday night by Shannon Fish of Spring, Texas, Allison Micheletti of St. Louis, and Selanee Henderson of Apple Valley, Calif. All were poised, articulate and seemed at ease being interviewed by hosts Charlie Rymer and Stephanie Sparks of the Golf Channel, no doubt helped by experiences on Big Break.

Sparks, a former professional player herself, has hosted Big Break for 14 seasons, while Rymer can also list hosting the Golf Channel's popular reality show on his resume. Also on stage Sunday night was Big Break director Paul Schlegel, who shared with the audience how the producers came up with the show, which just finished its 18th season.

'It was basically survival golf,' he said. 'But in the end, it's about making somebody's dream come true.'

Fish, a former all-American at the University of Texas, said getting eliminated in the second week of the show was one of the most difficult things she's ever dealt with, but 'I'm getting on with it,' she said. This week, she successfully made it through the first stage of LPGA Qualifying School.

At the conclusion of the dinner, Rymer had a suggestion for the competitors when they play the Dye Valley Course at the TPC Sawgrass, one of four courses used in the rotation this week.

'I hear the rough is a little up on the Valley Course because they've got a Tour event (Wynn-Dixie Jacksonville Open) in the next few weeks,' he said. 'I've got a little advice for you. Just chip it out to the fairway. There's nothing wrong with that.'

All kinds of players this week

Including the senior division of the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships, which just concluded, there are 1,136 competitors playing. They range from ages 16-79 and come from all walks and all parts of the continent.

Headlining the open division are two former major league baseball pitchers -- former St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics pitcher Mark Mulder and four-time World Series championship pitcher Orlando :El Duque' Hernandez.

'I'm looking forward to playing in my second Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships against so many good players from around the country and testing myself at TPC Sawgrass, one of the best courses that the pros play on Tour,' said Mulder, who shared the first-round lead at the American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe in July en route to a seventh-place finish. 'Trying to put together four good rounds is difficult at any time, much less when you are trying to control your nerves against these good players.'

There are also 23 past champions, who are returning for the national championships, including 10 defending champions. Also included in the roster of past champions are three golfers from the 2010 National Championships that also was contested at TPC Sawgrass: Don Miller (North Bay, Ontario, Canada, Senior Palmer Flight), Randy Adcock (Vidor, Texas, Senior Jones Flight) and Michael Poole (West Chester, Ohio, Snead Flight).

The PLAYERS Stadium Course and neighboring Dye’s Valley Course at TPC Sawgrass, along with Ponte Vedra Inn and Club’s Lagoon and Ocean Courses are serving as host courses.