Nortel Open boast warmer weather, 5 former Wildcats

By Ron Parsons
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 11, 1996

As the East Coast slogs through yet another day of the aftermath of the blizzard of '96, thousands of Tucson golf fans - and more than 150 PGA professionals - will be in their shirt sleeves and sun visors today for the Northern Telecom Open.

The second PGA tournament of the year, the Nortel Open starts today and runs through Sunday at both the Starr Pass and Tucson National golf courses. The field includes some notable names and a slew of players with Arizona ties.

Although John Daly canceled, PGA veterans Scott Hoch, Phil Mickelson, Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange and Mark O'Meara are here. The field also includes five former Wildcats: Mike Springer, David Berganio, Manny Zerman, Jim Furyk and Robert Gamez.

And the weather? Some players said it will affect more than just the psyche of ESPN viewers bundled up and buried under snow.

Billy Mayfair said balmy temperatures and slight winds could play a major part in determining who walks away with the gold Conquistador helmet - and the $225,000 - the champion will win.

"If the weather stays like it is, it's going to to take some low numbers, 14 or 15 under (to win)," said Mayfair, a Phoenician who attended Arizona State.

Mayfair, who finished last year in second place on the PGA money list with $1,543,192, also said that his fellow former Arizonans may have an advantage over their counterparts from colder climates.

"We play year-round," said Mayfair, the 1987 U.S. Amateur champion. "Maybe we're just a little sharper than the guys from back east."

Nortel Open history bears him out. Three of the last five Opens have been won by Arizonans. Mickelson, also an ASU graduate, won the tournament both in 1991 as an amateur and last year as a full Tour professional. Gamez took the title in 1990.

Mayfair said to look at past Open champs for possible winners this year.

"You've got to look at all the guys who've won here before," he said, mentioning Mickelson specifically. "But, there are 154 guys in the field. That's 154 people who have a chance to win."

Scott Hoch, winner of last year's Greater Milwaukee Open, said he was concerned with the condition of the greens at the Starr Pass course.

Hoch, who shot 4-under par in yesterday's pro-am event at Starr Pass, said the grass on the putting greens is in worse shape than he has ever seen.

"It's drier, it's shorter. The greens are rather difficult," he said. "There are spike marks, and it's uneven. It's just going to be tough putting."

A six-time winner of various PGA tournaments, Hoch said the poor grass at Starr Pass should provide for some adventures in putting, and - in contrast to what Mayfair said - make for higher scores. He also said that groups with the earlier tee times will h ave an advantage over those who have to use the greens later, after they have already been trampled on.

"Scores aren't going to be as good, and you want to play earlier," Hoch said.