With back-to-back Georgia golfers winning the event, the Stadion Classic at UGA has earned a reputation as an event that favors the Bulldogs in the field.
Players walk on the green during the 2012 Stadion Classic at the UGA golf course in Athens.
That’s just fine with Kevin Kisner, a member of Georgia’s 2005 NCAA championship team who will play in this year’s tournament April 29-May 5 at the UGA Golf Course, where Russell Henley won in 2011 and Hudson Swafford won a year ago.
“It’s almost going to be like a vacation week for me,” Kisner said Wednesday during a media event at the course. “It’s not as much of a grind, I’ll come in town and stay at Coach (Chris) Haack’s house, hang out with some friends and family and all of the people who were so good to me when I was here who I only get to see a few times during football season.
“And if I have a chance to win on Sunday, it’ll really help to have that crowd behind me. … I mean, how much more pumped up can you be having a chance to win and knowing everybody’s pulling for you?”
He’s been on the other side of that, too. Kisner played (and won) in the Web.com Tour’s Chile Classic last month and was paired for the final round with a local fan favorite and Santiago native, Benjamin Alvarado.
“It was almost the opposite there,” Kisner said. “I was playing with a Chilean guy the last day and everybody was cheering for him.”
Kisner said he had no hard feelings.
“Obviously, most golf crowds are great to you,” he said. “They understand good shots are good shots no matter who they’re following, and they’ll cheer for you.
“But you always have your favorites, and if I go play with Phil Mickelson on a Sunday, they’re going to be applauding a lot more for him than for me.”
Bulldogs battling for Stadion exemptions
Hosting the Stadion Classic comes with some perks for the Georgia men’s golf program, but none greater than getting two golfers in the field.
Each year, the two Georgia golfers with the lowest stroke averages are given a sponsor’s exemption and can participate as an amateur.
Last year, Nick Reach and Brian Carter represented Georgia, though neither made the cut.
This year, Haack said T.J. Mitchell leads the competition with a close battle for the next spot.
“Right now I think it stands with T.J. Mitchell leading and I believe Nick Reach is second, but Keith Mitchell is hot on his trail,” Haack said.
“It’s getting kind of competitive right now down the stretch.”
The Bulldogs have two more tournaments to lower their average with a trip to an Augusta State tournament and the Southeastern Conference championships on deck before the Stadion Classic.
The SEC tournament, to be played April 19-21 at Sea Island Golf Club in St. Simons Island, presents a chance for an underdog to make a move to break the system of giving the two spots to the golfers with the lowest stroke averages.
“The only way it can be superseded is if somebody wins the individual championship at the SEC championships, which happens to be a couple weeks beforehand,” Haack said. “We’ve never had that happen, but certainly we’ve had some good representation from the guys who have had those low stroke averages over the years.”
That includes Henley, who won while still a Georgia student and with a sponsor’s exemption in 2011.
Other exemptions still up in the air
Another pair of golfers will receive the tournament’s other two exemptions, but they have yet to be named.
And this year, organizers are under less pressure to decide as the Web.com Tour has reshuffled its seedings once already this season, making the potential field more clear than usual nearly a month before the tournament, said tournament director and course manager Dave Cousart.
“It has kind of helped us a little bit because they’ve already done one reshuffle with how the earnings are, and we kind of have an idea where we’re going, whereas in previous years the reshuffle is Sunday night at midnight the day before we start and we have until 10 a.m. Monday morning to tell them who our exemptions are,” Cousart said. “We don’t have that problem this year. We have more time, so we’re just going to wait it out a couple more weeks, see who plays well and at some point in two weeks or so we’ll probably make those announcements.”
Cousart did not reveal who is being considered but said some prominent names are among those seeking exemptions in what he described as a very competitive lineup.
“There is a plethora of young players like Kisner and younger, and the fields are getting stronger and stronger,” Cousart said. “And by the requests I’ve had for an exemption, you’d really be surprised who is having to ask.”
free business clinic
Web.com is offering a free clinic for local small businesses on May 3 at the Foundry Inn & Spa on Dougherty Street in Athens.
The event will begin with breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by forums from 8:30-10:30 a.m.
Topics will include how to create ecommerce websites, how to optimize search-engine rankings and marketing through social media and will be staffed by employees of Web.com, which specializes in Internet services and marketing.
For more information or to reserve tickets, visit businessforum.web.com.