Publinx event presents rare opportunity for Oklahoma golfers 

A trip to Augusta National and an opportunity to play for the coveted green jacket " it's every golfer's fondest dream.

But for 99 percent of those who play the game, the Masters will always be an unobtainable dream. The qualifying standards just to be a part of that elite field are so demanding, there are plenty of PGA Tour players who have never teed it up there.

Next summer, the state of Oklahoma will give three golfers a chance to earn spots in the 2010 Masters, when Norman hosts the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and Tulsa plays host to the U.S. Amateur Championship. The winners of both events, plus the runner-up finisher at the U.S. Amateur, automatically receive invitations to play in the ensuing Masters.

Hunter Haas knows how precious that invitation can be. He won the 1999 Publinx title and went to the 2000 Masters, where one big highlight was the fact he got to play a practice round with golfing legend Arnold Palmer.

The former University of Oklahoma All-American and current Nationwide Tour player missed the Masters cut that year, and although he has twice earned his full-time playing card on the PGA Tour, he has not had the chance to return to Augusta.

"Looking at the select few who get to play in the Masters every year as amateurs, you can't help but feel it's a great accomplishment and something you'll always cherish," said Haas, 31. "It's a special place with all of that great tradition, and any opportunity you have to go there and participate with the world's greatest players is special."

Haas admitted he is excited about the U.S. Publinx coming to the Jimmie Austin University of Oklahoma Golf Club in 2009. It is the first time a collegiate golf course has been chosen to host the event in its 86-year history.

"Being a part of the OU family and knowing some of the greatest amateur players ever have come out of Oklahoma " like Charlie Coe and Jimmy Vickers " I'm pretty pumped up about the Publinx being in Norman," he said. "And to see the state hosting both the Publinx and the U.S. Amateur " that shows how important golf is in Oklahoma."

The OU course has spent much of the last year preparing for its hosting duties. It received a $750,000 face-lift last fall and ongoing renovations have begun, but more is needed.

The Austin family has already pledged $100,000 as a challenge grant to help get the ball rolling. Any OU alumni and potential donors who make a gift to the 2009 Publinks campaign through the OU course will have their donation doubled via the Austins' match plan.

The Publinx championship is open only to players who are non-members of private golf clubs. According to the USGA Web site, the event "was created with the thought of giving exposure to many public-course players who otherwise might not have an opportunity to compete in a national championship."

To donate or for tickets or more information, call 325-6716. "Jay C. Upchurch

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