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Elite come to Grand Strand

The defending national champion, eight teams ranked in the top 50 in the nation by Golfweek magazine, and four players in the top 20 are all scheduled to participate in the 12-team General Jim Hackler Championship on Sunday and Monday at the TPC of Myrtle Beach

In addition to host Coastal Carolina, the field includes defending NCAA champion Augusta State. It's the second time in three years the defending national champ has participated at the TPC, as the Chants hosted 2008 national champ UCLA in 2009.

Chants coach Allen Terrell hasn't had to replace any teams since announcing the participants last July. Other teams participating are Auburn, College of Charleston, East Carolina, East Tennessee State, Lamar, North Florida, Pepperdine, Tennessee, Virginia and Wake Forest.

Augusta State, Virginia, North Florida and Tennessee all reached the 2010 NCAA Championships. Teams near the top of the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings include No. 8 Auburn, No. 15 Augusta State, No. 18 Virginia, No. 25 Wake Forest and No. 35 Pepperdine, No. 38 Tennessee, No. 48 East Carolina and No. 49 North Florida. Coastal Carolina is ranked 58th.

Individually, ASU's Patrick Reed is ranked sixth in the nation, Auburn's Blayne Barber is ninth, ASU's Henrik Norlander is 16th and Wake Forest's Evan Beck is 19th.

The 2011 field includes five former Hackler champions in Pepperdine (2004), CCU (2005), ETSU (2006 and '10), Lamar (2007) and Wake Forest (2008 and '09).

A preceding Saturday pro-am won't be held this year, as charitable donations have allowed the event to drop what had been one of its key fundraisers.

Choosing a circuit

While Patrick Lundy and Hugh Royer III will be on the Hooters Tour this year, Ryan Tyndall of Murrells Inlet is a member of the eGolf Tour and Zack Byrd of Murrells Inlet and former CCU teammate Sam Lyons of North Myrtle Beach are starting their seasons on the Peach State Professional Golf Tour.

Tyndall, a Thomson, Ga., native who attended but didn't play golf at the University of Georgia, plans to mix in some Peach State events.

The Peach State Tour has a 25-event schedule of two- and three-day events in Georgia and Alabama, beginning at The Brickyard at Riverside in Macon, Ga., on March 14-15 and concluding in late September. Events are $500 to $650 for members and guaranteed minimum payouts are offered, including a $10,000 winner's check in the opening event.

Lyons plans to play in some Hooters Tour Carolina Series events and both Nationwide and PGA tour Monday qualifiers as well, and is being assisted financially by the Lavin family, owners of Lavin Cars and the Barefoot Resort Bar & Grill.

Byrd also plans to participate in several early-season Nationwide qualifiers, hoping to make a cut or two in Nationwide events and earn status by the first status shuffle. His plan will incur some travel expenses.

"It's a gamble since I don't have a [financial] backer but I know I'm good enough to make it, I just have to play good at the right time," Byrd said.

Former Carolina Forest High and College of Charleston player Kellen Altman of Myrtle Beach will begin the season playing in Hooters Carolina Series and Grand Strand Pro Golf Tour events. Depending on how well he plays, he may enter some national Hooters Tour or eGolf Tour events.

Altman is back with Steve Dresser Golf Academy instructor Mike Schroder, who began giving him lessons at age 12 and also works with Byrd. "I'm back with Mike Schroder again full-time and that has been huge," said Altman, who is receiving minimal financial help from a friend and his father, Tom. "I've been playing well. That's the thing, just getting comfortable and knowing you can go out there and compete."

Myrtle Beach residents and Mexico natives Roberto Diaz and Yoshio Yamamoto, who both receive instruction from Scott Shobe at the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy at Long Bay Club, will play the national Hooters Tour.

They will also participate in events on a tour in Mexico, where Diaz played regularly over the winter.

Shobe said both players believe they may be granted exemptions into the Nationwide Tour's $700,000 Mexico Open from June 23-26 at El Bosque Golf Club in Leon, Mexico, and will attempt to Monday qualify for the event if not. Other Nationwide Monday qualifiers are likely.

Like a few players from the Grand Strand, Diaz and Yamamoto are playing in the 54-hole Hooters Carolina Series event at Columbia Country Club beginning today.

Tournaments canceled

It's not very easy these days to create and run a golf tournament on the Grand Strand. That was discovered by organizers of a pair of tournaments next week who had hoped to attract regional if not national participation.

The plug was pulled on both the amateur Barefoot Better Ball Classic scheduled Friday through Sunday at Barefoot Resort, and the Mystical Golf National Pro-Am scheduled for March 14-16 at the Witch, Wizard and Man O'War courses. Both were canceled because of a lack of registrants.

The fledgling MB Golf Events Inc. based in Pennsylvania was hoping to make the Barefoot event the first of several tournaments it will stage throughout the country. The 54-hole two-person better ball tournament with net and gross divisions had an entry fee of $1,199 per player and included three tournament rounds, a practice round and accommodations in a villa.

"It's not as easy as it used to be with the economy," Barefoot Resort general manager Dave Genevro said. "[Organizers] had participation but not enough to hold the tournament. They're reevaluating the tournament and may try to have it next year and get an earlier start on it."

The Mystical Golf National Pro-Am, created for club professionals and amateurs from their clubs, was the reincarnation of a pro-am started by Mystical Golf president Claude Pardue in the mid-2000s but discontinued a few years ago because of limited participation.

Pardue gave the event another shot, with free entry for club pros and entry fees of $986 per amateur for an event including three rounds, oceanfront accommodations at Baywatch Resort, several meals and both a cocktail reception and awards banquet.

Up to 62 teams could register, and tournament chairman and Man O'War head pro Randy Broughton said 25 teams - or 100 players - would have been acceptable this year. But only a handful of teams had registered when the initial entry deadline passed a couple months ago.

"Since then I had another 10 or so that said they wanted to sign up for the pro-am," Broughton said. "We may have pulled the trigger a little too quick, but on the other hand we had to make a decision. . . . We're going to try to revamp it and still hope to have a successful tournament [in 2012]. Our goal is to have it again and we're kicking around ideas."

Border battle

In conjunction with Can-Am Week, the third annual USA vs. Canada Challenge Cup will be held at noon March 18 at Cypress Bay Golf Club.

Teams play a different stroke-play format every six holes and one point is awarded for each format in every match. Holes 1-6 have a net best ball format with full handicaps considered to a maximum of 24, holes 7-12 have an alternate shot format with 50 percent of handicaps considered, and holes 13-18 have a scramble format with 50 percent of handicaps considered.

The entry fee is $25 for Cypress Bay members and $45 for non-members, and the event includes a hot dog and drink prior to tee off; prizes and a hamburger, beans and cole slaw after play; and entertainment by singer Marlisa. From each entry, $10 goes toward the prize purse, $10 goes toward the meal and $5 goes toward a 50-50 drawing.

The tournament's Canadian organizers are course owner/operator Doug Sullivan, club pro Richard Dumeah and former European Senior Tour member John Irwin, who said nearly 40 of a possible 56 two-person teams have entered. There are more Canadian teams entered than U.S. duos, and players can enter by calling Cypress Bay at 843-249-1025.

Irwin said the event had about 70 players in 2009 and 92 players last year, "so it's getting bigger and bigger."

Hurricane gaining strength

Jose Aguilar of Myrtle Beach topped 12 other players to win the Boys 13-14 division at the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour's Hilton Head Junior Shootout at Wexford Plantation this past weekend by seven shots with a 6-over-par 75-75--150.

Alfredo Ruiz of Myrtle Beach tied for eighth in the 39-player boys 15-18 division, six shots behind the winner at 13-over 157, Ryan Blair of Myrtle Beach tied for 13th at 160, and John Bacic of North Myrtle Beach finished 17th at 164.

The Hurricane Tour, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is in its fourth season and is for players ages 10-19. The tour will have an increased presence in South Carolina in 2011 with 12 tournaments in the state. Two events are scheduled for the Grand Strand. The Myrtle Beach Junior Shootout is scheduled for June 25-26 at Grande Dunes and the Myrtle Beach Junior Challenge is set for Oct. 22-23 at River Oaks Golf Club.

The S.C. portion of the 44-event schedule kicked off with an event at Kiawah Island Feb. 12-13, and five tournaments have already been held in Florida. Events will also be held in Greenville, Columbia, Anderson, Chapin, Clemson, Fort Mill, Okatie and Taylors.

New players can join the tour for $99. Tour media relations official Bryan Fyalkowski said the tour intends to have at least 25 boys and eight girls in the older divisions competing for overall tournament championships so the events qualify to be ranked by the South Carolina Junior Golf Association. Visit www.hjgt.org for more information.

To view Blondin's blog, Green Reading, or Q&A Forum, Ask Al, go to TheSunNews.com.

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