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Shriners Open featured low scores and large crowds

Las Vegas resident and eventual Shriners Hospitals for Children Open champion Kevin Na put on a scoring show rarely seen in PGA Tour history in an event that has a reputation as a birdie fest.

Off the course, the Shriners numbers were also scorching.

According to tournament executive director Patrick Lindsey, total attendance was 72,842, an increase from 55,000 in 2018. In 2014 the year before he became the executive director, the announced attendance was 25,000.

Na’s second- and third-round scores of 62-61 were the second-lowest total (123) ever shot consecutively on the PGA Tour. It was a score matched or surpassed only four other times and never in Las Vegas.

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2018 champion, summed up the scoring following his final-round 63. He finished 20-under 264, three shots behind Na and Patrick Cantlay. “This year played ridiculously easy because there was no wind; (with wind) the golf course can be difficult,” he said.

As for the tournament itself, DeChambeau said, “The overall field was incredible. … It’s going to be interesting to see how it moves forward. How much better can we get?”

How much better, indeed, is a question now left up to Lindsey and his team.

“We have to continue to evolve,” Lindsey said. That will involve getting feedback from clients, volunteers and spectators, then putting together the “best plan to move forward.” Lindsay said “attracting great players will always be our No. 1 priority.”

So after attracting what he described as the best tournament field in nearly 20 years, Lindsey said “we want to be able to say the same thing again next year. The community should expect that.”

With such a special field, Lindsey said he was confident the community would rally behind the event. That was abundantly clear on Sunday as Na and Patrick Cantlay came down the stretch battling for the lead.

”To see the mass of people come from holes 16 and 17 after Kevin and Patrick teed off on the 17th tee on Sunday and fill up the hill overlooking 18 was very rewarding,” Lindsey said.

Of course, this year’s Shriners will be remembered for having the best field since 2003. It featured 19 players in the top 50 and nine from the top 30 world rankings. It also had the world No. 1 golfer, Brooks Koepka, playing the event for the first time since then No. 1 golfer Greg Norman did so in 1988.

Other highlights were Phil Mickelson making his first Shriners appearance since 2005 and former UNLV star Adam Scott making his professional debut in Las Vegas.

The final memory was crafted by two former Shriners champions, Na (2011) and Cantlay (2017), who each survived turbulent Sunday performances on the back nine before ultimately settling things on the second extra hole.

Na made a four-foot par putt to win on Tour for the fourth time. This victory appeared to be the most emotional yet for the Southern Highlands member, who was already known as a very passionate player.

“My family was here and my father got to see me win for the first time,” said Na, before adding that it was his father, Yong Kim, who introduced him to golf at an early age. “It was a very special day.”

And a special week.

What is also meaninful, Linsey said, is that “with so many more fans and most likely higher television ratings due to the quality field …, the Shriners Hospitals message gets more exposure.”

No official Shriners date for 2020 has been announced by PGA Tour officials, which led many top players to hope for a similar spot on the calendar as this year. Such a decision would make it an easier for them to return.

Freelance writer Brian Hurlburt can be reached at bhurlburt5@gmail.com or @LVGolfInsider.

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