Local PGA stop adds pop with star

Effort isn’t an issue for those again trying to make the annual PGA Tour stop here more fashionable event than forgotten weekend.

Intelligent changes have been made to the format. A huge celebrity presence has been added to the title.

They are striving to make things better for the Fall Series tournament, obvious shortcomings be damned.

My 7-year-old daughter hasn’t a clue who Justin Timberlake is — “Is he a pro golfer?” she wondered Tuesday morning — but enough of the world does to believe by adding the pop singer as the event’s host, much larger galleries could be strolling TPC Summerlin next month.

Timberlake has the ability to draw a demographic to a golf course that otherwise would never think of spending time near one.

Example: Parents whose children know every syllable to something called “SexyBack” will buy tickets to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at the chance their teenagers might see him or any of the celebrity guests that Timberlake’s status could potentially lure.

The chance for huge draws exists on Wednesday (Oct. 15) for the celebrity Pro-Am and again on Saturday the 18th, when Timberlake and renowned swing coach Butch Harmon host a junior clinic. The chance for thousands of kids who have never picked up a club to be standing at attention holding one on the driving range that day is clear.

It’s a clever premise from which to build a more stout following — if your total purse remains $4.1 million and your standing as a Fall Series event keeps most of the top 50 players away for fear a sub-par finish will damage their world ranking, better to attract crowds with an entertainment star than try to sell a powerless field.

“You would have to be almost under a rock not to know who Justin Timberlake is,” tournament chairman Gary Davis said.

There is nothing wrong with wanting your tournament to grow into something beyond its annual minor standing within a PGA season, nothing wrong with desiring week-long crowds far greater than the range of 12,000 that have wandered out the past few years, nothing wrong with dreaming of one day being part of the FedEx Cup playoffs and having Tiger Woods embrace playing your tournament rather than avoid it, nothing wrong with getting as much attention possible for a title sponsor that spends close to $1 billion each year to treat burned and deformed children at no cost to families.

But as the mission rightfully continues to be about expansion, tournament officials would be sharp to never sway far from its local footing.

From continuing to extend sponsor exemptions to a person like Chris Riley.

Davis and his executive committee are allowed to offer just a few such invitations, but in voting unanimously to bring Riley back to the tournament, they made a statement about supporting those who helped Las Vegas golf reach its current popular state.

Chris Riley has never changed, not through the ups and downs of a 12-year professional career from which he has earned more than $9 million in winnings, not since he became the first four-time All-American at UNLV in any sport.

He is months from turning 35, hungry more for proving he still can play at an elite level than cashing large checks, splitting his time between Nationwide and PGA Tour events while continuing to hope facing the fewest putts per round (he ranks No. 1 on the Tour with a 27.7 average) will keep him competing against the planet’s best golfers.

He’s a wonderful guy sort of in limbo now, intent on not making the one mistake many golfers in his position might: He doesn’t want to start thinking too much when striking a ball.

“Chris is as genuine a person as you will ever meet,” Rebels golf coach Dwaine Knight said. “He appreciates life and everything he has earned. We’ve had a lot of great kids come through our program throughout the years, but Chris stands out. He still has a great short game, which can continue to make him competitive. It’s a fine line, but I still think he can play at that level.”

He will do so here next month in a tournament made far better with the switch to just one course and removing the Pro-Am portion from competitive rounds. Effort to make this event better by those in charge isn’t the issue. It never has been.

And now, the bottom line has a great chance to be improved with the presence of the guy who gave us “SexyBack.”

Whatever that is.

Ed Graney can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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