(NORTH PLAINS, OR July 25, 2016) Pro golfers are inherently gamblers. They are always betting on their talents, that they can play better and finish higher than they figure to.
For instance, 2015 WinCo Foods champion Dicky Pride – who qualified for his PGA Tour card with the win – has had less than a banner year on the PGA Tour. Pride has missed 14 of 17 cuts, made $62,449 in earnings and is 221st in the FedExCup points chase and 532nd in the World Golf Rankings. Barring a miracle, he won’t retain his PGA Tour card for next season.
The 2014 WinCo Foods Portland Open winner, Carlos Ortiz, is in a similar predicament. Ortiz has made $159,816 on this year’s PGA Tour, standing 182nd in FedExCup and 475th in World Golf Rankings.
However, both golfers could choose to play a few of the remaining Web.com events – including Portland – and finish among the top 25 on the tour, which would qualify them for an automatic PGA Tour card for 2017.
“We think between $140,000 and $150,000 in earnings will get you in the top 25 on the Web.com Tour,” says Jeff Sanders, executive vice president with Lagadere Sports, which stages the WinCo Foods Portland Open. “Our winner will earn $144,000. So you can probably win our tournament and get your PGA Tour card, which they may have lost (with their play on the PGA Tour this season).
“These guys think they can win at Pumpkin Ridge because they’ve won here before. Plus, they’ve played the PGA Tour, so they just think they should win.”
With or without Pride or Ortiz, 156 golfers will tee it up in late August at Pumpkin Ridge with 25 PGA Tour cards on the line. It’s the final regular-season event of the Web.com Tour, so the top 25 money-winners for the year after Portland will get their 2017 PGA Tour cards.
“We love being the ’25-card’ event,” Sanders says. “We love that these guys are fighting it out. We love that emotion and competition. There’s something about the competition when you’re fighting for a card.
“It’s a big deal. It’s fun to be at the end of the year, where we’re under the spotlight and everything is riding on our tournament.”
Not all of those who earn PGA Tour cards from their performance on the Web.com Tour have failed on the major circuit. Nine players who have earned PGA Tour cards after playing Portland the past two years have won PGA Tour events since, including Justin Thomas, Smylie Kaufman, Fabian Gomez and Peter Malnati.
Kaufman earned his card last August, and less than two months later, won his first PGA tournament, the Shriners Hospital for Children Open at Las Vegas. That qualified Kaufman for the Masters, and after shooting 73-72-69, he played in the final twosome at Augusta on Sunday with defending champion Jordan Spieth. Kaufman skied to a final-round 81 and wound up tied for 29th, but he is 19th in FedExCup and 61st in World Golf Rankings this year.
Then there is Harold Varner III, who claimed the 25th and final PGA Tour card at Portland last year. Varner has made $1,265,844 on the PGA Tour this season, ranking 72nd.
These are the stories that Sanders and tournament director Pat McCabe send out as evidence that participants in Portland are among the very best players in the world.
Wesley Bryan, 26, is the leading money-winner on the Web.com Tour in 2016 with $332,392. He’ll be in Portland along with Trey Mullinax (seventh), Ryan Armour (ninth) and Joel Dahmen (15th), who were at Pumpkin Ridge on Monday for media day.
When he began its association with what is now the Web.com Tour in 1990 with a tournament in Boise, Sanders – a Sunset High grad and Portland resident – wanted to bring an event to his hometown.
“They said the market was too big,” he says. “We’re still in Boise, but almost 30 years later, Portland isn’t too big anymore. The Web.com Tour also has events in Chicago and Cleveland now. We’ve expanded into major-league markets.”
Aside from top-caliber golf, the WinCo Foods Portland Open features a commitment to charity, youth golf and entertainment.
Tournament officials allow representatives of local charities to sell tickets – priced at $10 for a daily pass, $25 for the week – and keep 100 percent of the proceeds. The 2014 tournament reaped $725,000 for charities. Last year’s event generated $1.15 million.
“Last year, we did $320,000 in ticket sales,” McCabe says. “We’ve already hit that number in 2016. Our leading (charity) group has sold about $70,000 in tickets. We’re hoping to be at $1.2 million or $1.3 million (in charitable contributions), based on how remaining ticket sales go.”
The dollar figures are that high because WinCo Portland Foods provides added funds to charities on top of ticket sales.
“In some cases, WinCo rewarded ticket-sellers dollar for dollar,” McCabe says.
“We’ll be over the $3 million mark in our three years,” Sanders says. “In our second year, we gave more money to charity than any tournament every played in the state of Oregon. Hopefully, we’ll beat that record this year.”
Sanders’ original three-year contract with WinCo Foods as title sponsor has been extended a year, meaning the tournament will be back at Pumpkin Ridge in 2017.
“We’re excited about the future,” he says. “WinCo has been a fantastic title sponsor, and we have 40 or 50 local companies that serve as sponsors, too. We’ve had a great response from Portland businesses.
“WinCo’s No. 1, 2 and 3 priorities with our event is charity. There’s no money leaving Portland, which is very important. In many cases, money raised for charity at a golf tournament doesn’t all stay with that market. That’s not the case here. We think that’s great. It’s motivating.”
A free Nike-sponsored junior clinic on Thursday includes lunch, a cap and a one-hour lesson from a Web.com player. Nearly 500 kids attended the clinic last year.
“Rather than have pros hit draws and fades, the kids get to line up and take a lesson from a pro who is playing in the tournament,” Sanders says. “He’ll sign a hat for each kid. We’re trying to help grow the game. Maybe this experience helps motivate a boy or girl to take up the game and play.”
After Saturday’s round, country singer James Otto will perform a free concert off the 18th green.
Attendance for the 2015 event was about 40,000, “but we had bad weather on the weekend,” Sanders says. “We hope to have bigger crowds this year.”
Lagadere Sports now is involved with six events per year, including a pair on the PGA Tour. Sanders’ group will run the Safeway Open scheduled for October at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California. And it has been hired as management consultant for the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West in La Quinta, California – formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic – in January. Sanders, 60, played in that event as a PGA pro.
“Makes me feel real old,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite places. I just love going there. We’ll help them redesign the tournament, bring in some fresh ideas and set it up for a long-term bright future.”
Charities will benefit from all of the Lagadere events.
“We’ll raise almost $7 million,” Sanders says.
Lagadere has more than 30 full-time employees, 18 of them out of its Beaverton office.
“We’re always going to be in Beaverton, and from Beaverton,” Sanders says. “I love what we’ve been able to do, growing from a small organization to what we’ve become.”