Madison — With his dad, Jack, as his caddie, Heath Slocum birdied No. 17 to pass Loren Roberts and pick up his heftiest yet paycheck — $540,000 prize from the $3-million purse — November 6 at the 38th annual Southern Farm Bureau Classic at Annandale Golf Club.
The 31-year-old single pro golfer, formerly from Vicksburg, led the tournament with 25 birdies and finished 43 consecutive holes without a bogey. Despite playing solid golf, he started the last day one shot behind rookie Joey Snyder III, and was tied with 50-year-old Roberts until the next-to-last hole. The two-stroke win bumped him 17 spots to No. 50 on the PGA Tour money leaders list.
“With my dad on the bag and all of my friends and family watching, this was very special,” said Heath Slocum, who was born in Baton Rouge, La., earned a physical education degree in 1996 from the University of South Alabama, and now lives in Pensacola, Fla. He joined the tour in 2001, and faltered at the beginning of the 2003 season, when he made the cut in only five of his first 16 starts. He became the first of 10 first-time winners on the PGA Tour in 2004, when he won the Chrysler Classic of Tucson.
When it was held at the Hattiesburg County Club, where it originated in 1968 as the Magnolia State Classic, Jack Slocum, former head pro at Clear Creek Golf Course in Bovina, played in the event from 1980-1987, making four cuts but never finishing higher than a tie for 26th in 1983. The Slocums are believed to be the first father/son pair to win on the PGA Tour.
“I told him, nobody expects us to win, so there’s no pressure on us,” said Jack Slocum, who admitted it “was a pretty emotional win.”
Slocum, along with runners-up Roberts and Carl Pettersson, were surprise victors in a field of fierce competitors.
Five-time PGA Tour event winner Jesper Parnevik, who had never played the Classic, was No. 107 on the money list with more than $720,000 in earnings this season. Lee Janzen, an eight-time PGA Tour victor, including the 1993 and 1998 U.S. Open Championships and the 1995 Players Championship, had played the Classic in 2002.
Todd Hamilton, the surprise story of 2004 in the golf world, was named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year on the strength of two wins, including a dramatic playoff victory over Ernie Els at the British Open. Also in the line-up: Zach Johnson, No. 35 on the money list with $1.8 million in earnings in 2005. As a rookie in 2004, Johnson became just the second player in PGA Tour history to surpass $2 million in earnings in his first season.
In fact, Slocum, Roberts and Pettersson weren’t even listed in pre-press materials among the other top professionals who had committed to play, which included Jeff Sluman, Ben Curtis, David Duval, Shigeki Maruyama, Kirk Triplet and John Cook, along with sponsor exemptions Jim Gallagher Jr., Ryan Moore, Glen Day, Blaine McAllister, John Holmes and Casey Wittenberg.
On Sunday, the crowded leader board showed seven players tied for fifth place at 17-under. Disappointed with his final round after starting the day as one of those players, Kevin Stadler tossed his putter into a trashcan as he walked off the 18th green.
“We had one of our strongest fields ever,” said new tournament director Ed McEnroe.
Organizers considered canceling this year’s Classic, after Hurricane Katrina barreled across Mississippi August 29, but the tournament was postponed a month until November 3-6. About $500,000 raised during the tournament went directly to Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“With everything that happened, we didn’t know how we’d be able to put the tournament together,” said McEnroe. “But with the weather doing well and Annandale staff so well organized, we couldn’t have asked for anything better. The crowds were good and it was only fitting someone with such strong Mississippi ties won.”
Gov. Haley Barbour, a Classic spectator, praised the PGA for allowing the date to be changed.
“We bore the brunt of the worst natural disaster in history,” he said. “This is like a big gulp of fresh air.”
This year, the Classic added two new fan entertainment options: The Sportsman’s Lodge 19th Hole public hospitality area, and a Sunday after play concert featuring Dr. Zarr’s Amazing Funk Monster.
“I want to see more of that kind of thing,” said McEnroe. “We’ll always bring some of the best players to the tournament, but we’ll also focus on bringing more things to entertain people, too.”
This year’s tournament featured The First Tee National School Program, which has introduced the game of golf and its positive values to more than 150,000 elementary school students across the country since 2003. The Classic, in partnership with the PGA Tour, provided funding to bring the national school program to 11 elementary schools. Also, children 15 and under were admitted to the tournament free and invited to attend an afternoon junior clinic Nov. 5 featuring Guinness Book world record holder David Ogron.
Century Club Charities, a not-for-profit corporation that conducts the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, has raised more than $3.4 million for worthy charities since 1968. The Southern Farm Bureau Classic has been played at Annandale since 1994. Southern Farm Bureau has been the title sponsor of the tournament since 1999.
The purse will increase from $3 million to $3.5 million for next year’s event, scheduled for October 5-8, but the tournament’s future is in limbo. The PGA Tour will soon begin negotiations with major television networks on a deal that will revamp the end of the tour schedule for 2007-2010, possibly eliminating some fall tournaments.
The PGA Tour plans to endorse a season-end points chase, followed by six or seven more events that will lead to the Tour Championship, traditionally the year-end event for tour players. The Classic has been the last chance for players to finish in the top 40 to gain entry into the Masters, the top 125 to secure tour cards for 2006 and the top 150 to gain entry to the final stage of Q-School.
To compete in Mississippi, Classic organizers will need to double sponsorship money, from the $900,000 paid by Southern Farm Bureau to nearly $2 million, said Robert Morgan, who has been executive director since the tournament was established. Canadian National, Entergy Mississippi, and the Mississippi Development Authority also sponsored the 2005 event.
“We are definitely in good shape to keep the tournament,” said McEnroe. “The tour recognizes that we’ve had a tournament in Mississippi for 38 years and they’re appreciative of what Robert Morgan and Century Club Charities have done to build the event. A few weeks ago, we weren’t quite sure if we were going to have an opportunity at any dates in the future, but it looks like now we may have opportunities we weren’t aware of after the Tour Championship. We’re going to pull together a crew to make sure it works for everybody financially, but it’s nothing but positives for us right now.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.