E.A. Sports Today

Smaller field for Classic

[corner-ad id=2]Event won’t have as many teams, but officials remain confident it will produce another large charitable contribution

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Entries for this year’s Sunny King Charity Classic may be down, but tournament organizers remain confident those in the field will have a pleasant experience and the charities it benefits will come out the winners.

When the pairings for the 2015 Classic were made available Friday, 167 teams filled the slots. It is unlikely the tournament will draw a full field of 204 teams, but tournament participation is down all over.

“Historical timeline comparisons from previous years can predict team numbers may be down this year; unfortunately it seems participation is down for many tournaments,” SKCC chairman Braxton Harris said. “All we, GABPA, can do is stay the course and prove this year will be the best tournament ever.

“Luckily, our sponsorship numbers are up.”

Last year’s Classic drew 190 teams and at the end of the weekend officials proudly displayed a check of $92,000 for its charities. It was the first time in nearly a decade the tournament had not met its traditional target of $100,000. Still, after 36 years the event is approaching $2.5 million in total charitable contributions.

“I know we have a target dollar number, but as long as we provide more funding to the charities than they had before, we have helped them, even in some small way,” committee member Keith Howell said. “At the end of it all, I’m OK with that.”

Theories for the decline abound, among them the increased entry fee, long rounds, limited prizes and, this year, the gap between July 4 and the opening drive. The tournament traditionally is held the weekend following July 4, but this year it is nearly a full week after the holiday.

Unless there’s a late rush of entries – and there likely will be some before Thursday — tournament officials may reduce the number of flights for the field. At present there are eight flights – all bearing the names of the auto lines carried by title sponsor King Auto Group.

Teams that register this week will be added in slots at the tail end of the tee sheets.

Lance Evans and Ryan Howard are the defending champions, winning last year in a playoff over Gary Wigington and Freeman Fite. Both teams shot 38-under-par 176 in regulation, the winning score each of the last three years.

The modern-era tournament record is 39-under, set the year before the three straight 38s. Challenging that mark may be a little harder this year with the Backbreaker nine replacing Mindbreaker in the rotation at Silver Lakes.

“Last year we honestly played three solid rounds of golf,” Evans said. “I’m going into it just like I did last year, not expecting anything. Last year we just thought we’d play as best we could and try to stay within a couple shots of the lead going into the Country Club and that’s the same mentality we’ll go into it with this year.”

It was the first King Classic title for Evans and Howard and would have been Wigington’s record-tying sixth if the playoff went the other way. As it was, Wigington was second for the second year in a row.

In their first Classic round as partners, Wigington and Fite tied the tournament scramble record with an 18-under-par 54 at Silver Lakes. Coming close makes him hungry for this year’s title.

“We were very disappointed with last year’s finish and how we played,” Wigington said. “I think it lit a fire under both of us, to do better and not be in that position again.

“It was one of those things you just don’t forget about the next week. We’re both definitely pressing to do a little better this year.”

Evans and Howard were the fifth different team to win the title in as many years. No team has won back-to-back titles since 2004-05.

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