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Shriners Open looks to capitalize on momentum, new date

An estimated 15,000 fans — by far the largest in the last 10-15 years and possibly ever — were on hand at TPC Summerlin on Sunday for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open final round.

They will only have to wait 11 months to attend next year’s event because the tournament is moving up a month to Oct. 3-6, 2019.

When eventual 2018 champion Bryson DeChambeau knocked in a 58-foot eagle putt from just off the green on the 16th hole to take the lead for good over defending champion Patrick Cantlay, the crowd’s roar reverberated to the 17th green where Cantlay was putting — he heard it while in the process of making a bogey for a three-shot swing — and to the media center located two holes and a large practice area away.

Possibly the only person happier than DeChambeau was tournament director Patrick Lindsey. Years of hard work by the Shriners organization and his team were being rewarded right before his eyes.

“It was probably the most excited I have ever been on a Sunday in my golf career,” Lindsey said Monday. “We had an incredible week and have been working on so many ways to take this event to the next level.

“How it all came together on Sunday was extremely gratifying. I loved hearing the roar and the excitement on 16, 17 and 18 when the putt dropped. It was awesome and special moments like that are what will help propel us.”

Momentum from 2018 (after seemingly decades of lagging crowds and other challenges) should be fueled by the new date because the current November tournament slot conflicted with a tournament swing when many of the world’s best played in Asia.

Even with that conflict, several legitimate big-time players like Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau, DeChambeau and others played in Las Vegas this year and each made the cut. A strong local contingent battled until the end, led by Scott Piercy, who finished tied for 10th, and 2018 PGA Tour rookie of the year Aaron Wise, who finished tied for 15th . Expectations are for an even more impressive field in 2019.

Lindsey said total attendance statistics haven’t been officially compiled, but the weekend was by far the largest turnout in the Shriners era (since 2006) and total attendance numbers will shatter those from a year ago. Qualified observers who have witnessed the tournament for many of its 36 years confirmed his estimates and said year-over-year attendance was up by as much as 50 percent even with a decent turnout in 2017 buoyed by the Vegas Strong feelings and crowd favorite Bubba Watson.

Lindsey wasn’t authorized to speak about the new date because the 2019-20 PGA Tour schedule isn’t official yet, but plans are already underway for 2019.

“Expectations for next year are to build upon the success of this year,” Lindsey said. “There are obviously things we can do to continue to build a better experience for our spectators and clients and we will do that. What this community will expect is for us to continue to create the best product inside and outside the ropes as possible. We are very much expecting to have an even better field and we were very proud of this year’s field.”

DeChambeau, 25, made his third appearance at the Shriners and it appears the tournament will continue to be a part of his scheduling plan. He was one of several players, including Spieth and Fowler, who took time to make positive comments about the tournament and the Shriners patients involved.

“Shriners Hospitals is honestly why we’re all here,” DeChambeau said. “They’re all such an inspiration. Today Alec, Riley and Lilly were sign bearers for us and it was just awesome to watch them walk around.I’m very, very blessed and fortunate that I have great health, so to see them out here still persevering in their own way and being able to support and volunteer for the PGA Tour is more inspirational than me winning. I think that’s what needs to be noted. Shriners Hospitals does an incredible job of changing people’s lives, changing family’s lives.”

The ecstatic Lindsey had the final word.

“Bryson has truly embraced the Shriners Hospitals mission and having such a high-ranked player win (now fifth in the world) adds even more credibility to the tournament,” Lindsey said. “He will be a tremendous ambassador for us this year and well into the future.”

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

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