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Viking field getting stronger with Watkins on recruiting trail

The Viking Classic’s field got a little stronger last week.

David Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship, gave his commitment to Viking tournament director Randy Watkins at The Barclays Tournament. Watkins had traveled to The Barclays in Westchester, N.Y., to recruit players for the Viking, whose pre-tournament events tee off September 15.

Watkins said Toms was one of the “big three” he was hoping to land commitments from — the other two being Scott Verplank and Vijay Singh.

Hasn’t said ‘no’

As of August 27, Watkins said Singh had not yet committed “but he has not said no.”

Watkins was unable to speak with Singh directly at The Barclays but he did make overtures to Singh’s agent.

“He’s hard to get to,” Watkins said of Singh. “The thing I think we have going for us is that he’s usually quick to say no and he hasn’t done that yet.”

Singh, who won the Barclays in a dramatic playoff, leads the FedEx Cup, a points system determined by tournament finishes. The winner gets a $10-million bonus at the end of the season.

The weekend before the Viking is a PGA-tour mandated week off for players, and since Singh, who is from Fiji, cannot compete in the Ryder Cup, the only PGA-sanctioned event the next week is at Madison’s Annandale Golf Club.

“If he continues to lead that, it would be out of character for him to take two weeks off,” Watkins said. “That’s what we have going for us, and that’s what we’re hoping will happen.

“I’m a huge fan of his game. I would love for people in Mississippi to see his game. He’s been my No. 1 target from the very beginning.”

So the sales pitch continues. Watkins will keep pursuing Singh, telling either him or his representatives that Annandale is a course that will allow Singh to excel, that the support personnel and volunteers who will work the Viking are among the most gracious and helpful anywhere on Tour.

As for the course itself, Watkins said Annandale closely resembles East Lake in Atlanta, where Singh won the Tour Championship in 2002 and where he will attempt to win the FedEx cup and that $10-million check in September.

‘They love the course’

Convincing players who have played Annandale to return is not a hard sell.

“It’s easier on guys who have played here,” Watkins said. “They know what Annandale is. They love the course.”

Watkins is a former PGA Tour pro. He knows a good golf course when he sees it, which lends him credibility in the eyes of the pros he tries to lure to Madison.

“A lot of these guys know I was a Tour player, so it’s not so much that I have to sell them, I just have to tell them,” Watkins said.

“Annandale has great practice facilities. The putting greens are phenomenal. That probably is the easiest thing I have to sell is the course. They love coming here because the people are so nice. The food, the fellowship, the fishing that we can offer them, all that is a big deal. Players go places where they feel comfortable. If I weren’t comfortable here, I would have moved. A lot of people who make their living in the golf industry move to places like Florida. But there’s no need to. You can make it here.”

Ticket sales on pace

Ticket sales for the Viking are on the same pace as last year, “which is ahead of where we thought we would be,” Watkins said.

If Singh commits to the tournament, “I would venture to guess that ticket sales would double,” Watkins said. “He is a great, great player, won several majors and has a huge following. Greatness is reserved for a lucky few. It’s a rare thing to see. But all these players are either great or will be great in the future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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