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Blake to play in Utah Classic

Jay Don Blake
Jay Don Blake

If he wanted to, Jay Don Blake could be feeling sorry for himself these days.

After being a regular on the PGA Tour for 18 years and winning the 1991 Shearson Lehman Brothers Open in San Diego and banking more than $5.5 million, Blake lost his exempt status last year. So this year Blake has been forced to toil on the Nationwide Tour, which is geared toward players on their way up to the PGA Tour, not on their way down.

But the 46-year-old Blake isn't embarrassed to be playing with guys half his age on a tour referred to as the Triple-A of the PGA Tour. In fact he seems to be relishing the opportunity.

"It's been a blast," he said. "I get more excited watching these kids play than the guys on the regular tour. I'd like to see some of them go head to head with players on the tour. There are so many players out here who can compete."

Blake will be in the 155-player field this week when the Nationwide Tour makes its annual stop in Utah. The Envirocare Utah Classic begins Thursday and runs through Sunday at Willow Creek Country Club.

The St. George native and former Utah State golfer is especially impressed with the distance of some of the Nationwide players. A look at the latest statistics show that they hit the ball as far or father than the PGA Tour golfers.

While 17 PGA Tour players average more than 300 yards off the tee, 39 golfers on the Nationwide Tour average more than 300. Bubba Watson, who is in the field this week at Willow Creek, leads the Nationwide with a 336-yard average, compared to 315 yards for the PGA's top driver, Scott Hend.

"They hit it so far," Blake says. "I'm hitting it 280 or 290 and they're hitting it 50 or 60 yards past me. It's fun to watch, but it's pretty humbling. It's helped me re-motivate myself."

Being one of the older players on the Nationwide Tour has made for some interesting conversations for Blake with the other golfers.

"Guys will come up to me and say, 'I used to watch you when I was 7 years old,"' Blake says. "I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing."

As positive as Blake sounds about playing with the youngsters who hit the ball so far, the Nationwide Tour is still not an ideal situation for Blake, who wants to get back on the big tour.

"It's been frustrating," he said. "You're out there for 18 years and it's almost like they forget about you. You'd think some of these tournaments would be loyal to you and give you a sponsor's exemption."

So far this year, Blake has been less than pleased with his play. Back and elbow problems have limited his play and he didn't even start playing until late April. He has made just four cuts in nine tournaments and his $13,282 puts him 164th on the money list.

"I'm not scoring well," he said. "I need to chip and putt better."

But Blake is excited to be back in Utah this week playing in front of local fans at a familiar venue.

"It always brings back good memories," he said, recalling his 1988 Utah Open triumph at Willow Creek when he finished with a 54-hole total of 13-under 203.

As excited as he is to be playing in his home state this week, Blake hopes it won't be a regular occurrence. He'd like to get back on the PGA Tour soon and play a couple years before he moves onto the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in three years.

"I'm still going to try (to play the PGA Tour)," he said. "I still feel like I've got the game to compete."

CLASSIC NOTES: A youth clinic featuring trick-shot artist Peter Johncke will be held today at 4:30 p.m. at Willow Creek . . . Fourteen golfers will earn spots in this week's tournament at a qualifying tournament at Wingpointe GC today . . . Corporate pro-ams will be played Wednesday morning and afternoon . . . The winner of the tournament receives $81,000.