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UTAH STILL WAITING FOR ITS NEXT GENERATION OF PROS

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For many years local golf fans have had a good assortment of golfers with Utah connections to cheer for on the PGA Tour.

It started back in the 1960s when former BYU golfer Johnny Miller starting winning and Billy Casper moved to Utah and continued through the '70s and '80s with the likes of ex-BYU golfers Mike Reid, Bobby Clampett, Keith Clearwater, Dick Zokol and Utah native Jay Don Blake.But the way things are going, within a decade, the only guys Utahns can call their own will be playing on the Senior Tour. Of course Casper has long since moved on to the Senior Tour and Miller is counting the days until he turns 50 and can start a new career. Most of the rest of the Utah-connected players are in their mid-30s or older.

Right now five players who list Utah as their home are playing regularly on the PGA Tour. Blake, a native of St. George is 35, as is Forsman, has lived in Provo for a decade after marrying a local woman. Clearwater, a former BYU golfer who settled in Orem, will turn 35 later this year. Reid, another ex-Cougar, has also lived in Provo for more than a decade and will turn 40 next week. Steve Brodie, who also settled in Provo after marrying a local woman, is in just his first full year on the PGA Tour, but he'll turn 30 next year.

So why aren't there more Utah natives or ex-BYU golfers making it on the PGA Tour?

"Don't ask me how it works," said Miller, who was in town this week for the Great American Indian Shootout. "But I think it comes in waves. When I came on the tour, there were a lot of players from northern California who did well. But that area has hardly produced anyone since."

Miller said Utah is hurt by a couple of factors - the altitude and bluegrass courses. In fact those were two of the reasons he moved his family from Salt Lake back to California a few years ago, to help his children to develop into better golfers.

Miller believes golfers don't develop their games to their full extent in Utah because they get used to hitting the ball further at altitude and they don't learn how to hit off of other kinds of turf, like Bermuda, which is prevalent in California and Florida.

Blake, who is the only native-born Utahn on the PGA Tour, says Utah weather may be a big reason why no Utahns are making it.

"In Utah you can play just eight or nine months and you have three or four months where you have to find something to do," said Blake, who was different in that he was able to play nearly year-round, growing up in St. George. "There are so many quality players out there and you've got to play every day and be so dedicated."

As for why there aren't more BYU players making it on the Tour, both ex-Cougar coach Karl Tucker and current coach Bruce Brockbank can give you a simple answer - it's almost impossible to get the blue-chip golfers to Provo any more with all the competition from warm-weather schools.

Even though it may look bleak for future Utahns on the PGA Tour, Miller is still optimistic. He points to Utah's teenage sensation Boyd Summerhays, who has already won tournaments on a national scale as an example.

"I think Boyd Summerhays is going to change all that," said Miller. "Who knows, maybe he'll lead others out (on the Tour) and start a tradition for Utah golfers."

SIMPLE ADVICE: Miller tries to make golf simple when he gives clinics. Perhaps the best advice Miller gave at a clinic prior to the Great American Indian Shootout this week was this:

"Don't think too much. Guys who think too much have trouble hitting the ball. When you get up to the first tee, say to yourself, `I can't wait to nail it' and then get up and nail it."

STRAY SHOTS: The Utah Long Drive Contest scheduled for last Friday was canceled because the national long drive sponsor, Chrysler Corporation, recently pulled out of its million-dollar sponsorship. According to local long-drive director Jeff Waters, if no sponsor picks up the event, then Utah will have its own contest, most likely in late-August at Mick Riley Golf Course . . . The new driving range at Mountain Dell GC opened last week . . . Weber State golfer Chris Myrick won the Public Links Qualifying this week at Glendale Wednesday with rounds of 67 and 71 . . . Don Larsen qualified for the U.S. Senior Open Monday at Willow Creek by firing a 70 to edge Lanny Nielsen by a shot. The Senior Open is at Pinehurst, N.C. next week.