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Golf qualifier furthers Hernando's Canadian connection

BROOKSVILLE — Snowbirds won't be the only Canadians driving around Hernando County this week.

Silverthorn and Southern Hills golf courses and country clubs are hosting the Canadian Professional Golf Tour qualifying school, with some 80 players trying to drive — and putt — their way into the professional ranks or maintain their status as Canadian tour players.

Local residents have opened their homes to several of the golfers from Canada, and elsewhere.

Bill and Estelle Corrigan, who live in Silverthorn, are among the "adopt a golfer for a week" hosts. They have taken in two players, one from Ontario, the other from Ireland.

"They're so polite," Estelle Corrigan said. "They call their mothers all the time. They make up their beds, and they're no problem at all."

They gobbled Bill Corrigan's scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast on their first morning here, arriving last week for practice rounds. After breakfast, the visitors cleaned up the kitchen and cooking pans, Estelle Corrigan said.

Canadian tour officials didn't push the "adoption" program because it didn't have the capabilities for vetting backgrounds of all the players, spokesman Bram Cotton said. But the association said it appreciated the families who are hosting players, who pay $2,850 each as an entry fee and additional money for travel and meals.

One player staying at a local motel is Casey Watabu, who arrived from his home in Hawaii. The 25-year-old played Southern Hills on Thursday, judging it a fine course. He talked in the Silverthorn clubhouse while awaiting his tee time in the early morning fog Friday.

He said he was introduced to the game at the age of 7 by his father, "a decent but not a scratch player." Early on, the young man turned into a winner. "It was just for fun," Watabu said, "but winning made it more fun."

He doesn't remember the details of the first tournament he won. But one performance comes readily to mind. At the 2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links Tournament in Washington state, he beat Anthony Kim, now ranked as one of the top 10 golfers in the world. Watabu also has competed as an amateur at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga.

As for this week's tour qualifier, Watabu said of his strategy: "You want to try your own game and don't get ahead of yourself."

PGA tour backgrounds

Silverthorn course owner Jerry Heard became friends with Dan Holldorson, the Canadian tour deputy director, when Heard and Holldorson played on the PGA tour from 1969 to 1983.

When Hollderson learned that Heard now owned a golf course, Hollderson and other Canadian tour officials came for a visit.

"They just came and looked at the course, liked what they saw, liked the facility," said Silverthorn golf pro Kris Mahoney.

Giving the qualifying school an added attraction, the Canadian association booked the highly acclaimed Southern Hills course for competition.

This marks the second year for the event in Hernando. Only one other Q-school for the association is scheduled — in California.

The public is invited to watch the golfers, starting about 7 a.m., weather permitting, today and Wednesday at Southern Hills, and Tuesday and Thursday at Silverthorn.

"Our members like to watch the kids play," Silverthorn's Heard said.

Although no prize money is awarded, the top golfer will receive $2,000 back on his entry fee, Korn said. Also, 12 percent of the top competitors will earn cards qualifying them to play on the Canadian tour.

"It's a nice event for us," Heard said, noting that the greens at Silverthorn will be double cut, tees moved back and pins repositioned, all to make the playing conditions more difficult and up to tournament standards.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Golf qualifier furthers Hernando's Canadian connection 03/15/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 15, 2009 8:14pm]
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