Pete Dye Classic legacy continues on PGA Tour
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Three of the six champions from the former Pete Dye Classic have returned to the state to further their careers on the big stage at The Greenbrier Classic. As one could expect, their paths have zigged and zagged in several directions.
The Pete Dye tournament, played at the course of the same name near Bridgeport, ran from 2004 to 2009 and evolved into one of the Nationwide Tour's finest stops. So fine, in fact, that it became the Nationwide Tour Players Cup in 2008, open to the circuit's top 144 money winners.
Were it not for the sudden emergence of The Greenbrier Classic, that would still be the case. But the tournament's legacy continues.
D.A. Points, the inaugural Pete Dye winner in 2004, has emerged as the top player of the bunch and has climbed all the right charts since finishing fourth at The Greenbrier Classic. He has earned $1.7 million this season and ranks 27th in the FedExCup standings and 110th in the world.
The latter spot is a nice climb from 205th in January. Points had 15 top-25 finishes in his first two years on the big tour but finally broke through in February with his first victory, at the AT&T Pebble Beach.
He has made nine cuts since, but his best finish is 20th at The Memorial near Columbus, Ohio. He did not qualify for the British Open, but his Pebble Beach win put him in the Bridgestone Invitational next week and the PGA Championship the week after.
Jason Gore, who is not playing in the Greenbrier Classic, would like a little of that magic. He looked like a rising star after winning the 2005 Pete Dye and two subsequent Nationwide events to earn a "battlefield promotion" to the PGA Tour, and then winning a September event.
But he has since lost his exempt status, and is splitting time between the PGA and Nationwide tours.
And then there are Pete Dye winners Jimmy Walker (2007) and Tom Gillis (2009). Walker tied Points for fourth in last year's Greenbrier Classic, while Gillis finished 10th.
Both are consistent enough to stay on the PGA Tour these days, but have had their struggles to do so.
For example, Walker had one of the all-time close calls - in 2009, he scrambled for a par on the final hole of the final tournament to move from 126th to the magic No. 125 on the Tour's money list. He fell off the Tour after 2006, and had to survive the qualifying tournament after 2008.
Gillis tumbled out of the Tour after 2005 and had no status on any tour at the start of 2008. He got hot in 2009, finishing fifth on the Nationwide and earning a promotion.
He sits 97th on the FedExCup points list and 88th on the money list this year with $782,667, earnings he nearly gave up the chance to win. After 2006, with a baby boy at home, he got disillusioned with the game.
"One of the things I wanted to do was leave the game with some money and I had a little bit of money and I thought, 'I don't want to risk that money the way I'm playing right now,'" he said. "So I sat in the wintertime, came up to the Michigan and Detroit area for four or five months, looked for some jobs. It was a tough market then.
"I thought, well, heck, I'd better get out there and do what I'm somewhat good at. I changed a few things, worked with a new coach, had two years of no status, Nationwide, won that Players Cup [in Bridgeport], and things just started changing.
"I could see it was coming. The game was better and I still feel that way today. I still think that the best is yet to come."
Another common denominator among journeymen, as with players in other spots, is injury. Walker played four rounds with a bum knee last year at Old White but still managed a 64 and three 67s.
Gillis, who made last year's Greenbrier cut with a second-round 63, has fought back issues this year. He sat out eight weeks at one point and still reports pain at the top of his swing.
"I think that's the first time I've had back issues in 21 years of [playing]," Gillis said. "I really didn't know what to do with it because I've had three wrist surgeries and I know what to do with a wrist, but I didn't know what - how much I could use it and this and that.
"Just wear and tear, but I think there's probably 50, 60, 70 percent of the guys out here are dealing with some sort of back injury, that's what I've come to find out, very common."
Of the other two Pete Dye champs, 2006 winner Jason Enloe remains on the Nationwide Tour, where 2008 winner Rick Price has missed all eight cuts. Price rose to the PGA Tour for 2009, but won just $66,689 and hasn't been competitive since.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.