With a boost in excitement thanks to the presence of golf legends Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino in the field, the annual Franklin Quest Championship gets under way Friday morning at Park Meadows Golf Club.
The 78-golfer field is likely the best in the 15-year history of the senior tournament because of the added electricity Palmer and Trevino add to the likes of Dave Stockton, Gary Player, Bob Murphy, Tom Weiskopf, Tony Jacklin and locals Bruce Summerhays, Bob Betley and Bud Allin.Tournament officials are expecting the largest turnout since it moved to Park Meadows four years ago. The 54-hole tournament continues Saturday and Sunday in Park City.
Palmer flew in Wednesday night, while Trevino came in a day earlier and played in Wednesday's pro-am. Palmer, Trevino and Player will play together Friday at 11:20 a.m.
At age 66, Palmer isn't a realistic threat to win this weekend. He hasn't even played in a senior tourney since July 21 at the Burnet Senior Classic in Minnesota.
His best finish this year was a tie for 19th at Pittsburgh, where he started off among the leaders with a 69 before carding a pair of 74s. He ranks just 83rd on the money list. Still, Arnie is the king of golf to many, and this could be his last golfing appearance ever in Utah.
Trevino, on the other hand, has to be listed among the favorites, even though he is having a bit of an off-year, ranking just 17th on the money list. The Merry Mex has won 26 Senior events since 1990 and is the all-time money-winner with more than $6 million in earnings. He's never finished lower than seventh on the money list and has won every year he's been on the Senior circuit until this year. Betley played with Trevino a couple of weeks ago and believes he'll have a good chance of winning."This is a good golf course for him," he said. "He can work the ball both ways, and I think he'll have a lot of fun up here."
Trevino saw the course for the first time in Wednesday's pro-am and carded a nifty little 68.
Palmer was to play the course for the first time in Thursday's pro-am. He played the first four years the Senior tournament was played at Jeremy Ranch, a course he designed, but hasn't been back since.
"It's exciting to have Arnold out here," said Summerhays. "It's probably the last time he'll be here."
The obvious favorites are Stockton, Weiskopf and Jacklin, who have all won at Park Meadows before, along with Murphy, Player, Bob Charles and John Bland, a South African who already has four victories in less than a year on the tour.
Some of the lesser-known players to watch are Vincente Fernandez, a South American who won in Minnesota earlier this year; Brian Barnes, who won the British Seniors last month; Frank Conner, a rookie who ranks high on the money list; and ex-club pro Jack Kiefer.
Kiefer has always played well in Utah, finishing tied for third twice, fourth and eighth the last four years. He's having his best year ever on the Senior Tour, ranking 15th on the money list with just under a half-million dollars, and Tuesday he won the Merrill Lynch Shootout at Park Meadows.
"I like being here," he said. "It's so low-key and relaxing. There isn't the hustle and bustle you see at other tournaments. I feel more at ease here."
TOURNEY NOTES: Betley has been one of the tournament's greatest ambassadors, but it almost backfired on him this year. Betley is not an exempt player, but he has gotten in the majority of the tournaments this year by virtue of his 14th-place finish in the Senior qualifying tournament last fall. But this year, when eight eligible players signed up at the last minute, Betley suddenly found himself out as the second alternate. "I promoted the heck out of the tournament, and then I can't even get in. It's like I said, `Come to Utah, take my spot and make some money."' Three players dropped out to assure Betley of a spot, which he would likely have gotten anyway with a sponsor exemption . . . With an increased purse of $800,000, the tournament now ranks ahead of eight other senior events and is the same as six others . . . When this tournament was first played in 1982, there were just 11 Senior events worth a combined $1.3 million compared to today's 44 tournaments worth $37 million.