He who conquers the greens likely will conquer the Navajo Trail Open.
The participants at the 51st edition of the tournament, which will begin today at Hillcrest Golf Club, will do battle with the courses typically tricky greens.
But with a lack of rain, the greens are firmer and faster than usual, so the short games and putting of each player in a wide-open field likely will be the biggest determining factor between contenders and pretenders.
The golf course is going to be very firm, very fast, and it will be challenging, Hillcrest head pro John Vickers said. Players that have come back, both amateurs and professionals, all remark how difficult the greens are here.
Durango High School and Fort Lewis College alumnus Devin Schreiner said players with experience playing Hillcrest and its greens should have a sizeable advantage. With a bevy of regulars, as well as current and former DHS and FLC golfers in the field, the advantage could be neutralized, but theres no secret as far as what Schreiner thinks itll take to win.
I almost guarantee the winner at the end of the weekend is going to be the guy who putted the best, he said.
The field is full of former champions, many of them with local ties. Defending champion Micah Rudosky, the head coach at Montezuma-Cortez High School and pro at Conquistador Golf Course, is back and gunning for title No. 4. Two-time champ Mike Northern is back, as is DHS alum and former winner Bobby Kalinowski. Former champions and Fort Lewis alumni Keenan Holt and Luke Tanner are in the field, as well.
Itll be an interesting three days of golf. ... Theres a lot of really good players, Vickers said.
Of course, theres also a pack of quality players chasing their first title at the NTO, a pack that includes Schreiner, whos playing in the event for the first time as a pro.
I feel really good about my game right now, so Id like to be in the final group Sunday, Schreiner said.
Recent Colorado School of Mines graduate Jim Knous is coming off a runner-up finish at the NCAA Division II Mens Golf National Championships last month and could make a big splash this weekend.
Derek Tolan, who qualified for the U.S. Open as a 16-year-old in 2002 before a sterling career at the University of Colorado, is a name to watch, as well.
I think this years field is strong, especially in the pro flight, Schreiner said.
Brad Besler, who fell to Rudosky by one stroke at last years tournament, is back again, as is former Univeristy of Colorado golfer Kane Webber. Tom Kalinowski, Bobbys brother, has been in contention multiple times, while Luke Symons fired a first-round 65 a year ago. Jeff Roth, the head pro at the San Juan Country Club in Farmington, also is in the field.
Tom Kalinowski shared the low score Thursday with Symons and Ricky Romano at 66.
Vickers said theres between 10 and 20 golfers he thinks have a legitimate chance to take home the title, and hes excited that the field has both a depth of age and experience.
The other kind of great thing about this tournament is youve got professionals as young as 21 years old playing, but then other professionals that are in their 60s, so you have this wide mix of experience and youth, he said.
As always, the Navajo Trail Open brings out plenty of local notables. In the field are FLC head golf coach Bud Andersen, former FLC players Jeremy Lederer, David Schroeder and Gavin Lyons, former Hillcrest pro Jim Fiala, former DHS golfer and FLC signee Morgan Miller, DHS assistant golf coach Kermitt Barrett, current Montezuma-Cortez standout Jakob Rudosky Micahs son and former MCHS standout Shea Sena, among others.
Also back again is Wayne Crawford, whos making his 45th consecutive appearance.
But despite the varied pedigrees, skills and knowledge of the course, Schreiner pointed out that at the end of the day its the same game theyve all been playing for years.
Its still just golf. Everybodys still got to go out and hit that little white ball, he said.