Slocum looks for repeat in Madison

Published 3:30 pm Thursday, September 28, 2006

Heath Slocum has missed eight cuts in 24 tournaments, has just two top 10 finishes and is 85th on the money list after finishing a career-best 50th last year.

Yet he feels like a contender as he begins defense of his Southern Farm Bureau Classic title on Thursday. That’s because it always feels like he’s coming home when he plays in Mississippi, where his father was a club pro in Vicksburg, about 50 miles from Annandale Golf Club.

“I get a lot of friends and family that come up and just make it a lot of fun for me,” Slocum said.

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Jack Slocum served as caddie for his son when Heath Slocum won the tournament last year on the final hole with a 21-under 267. While Jack Slocum won’t be carrying the bag this year, he will be roving the course as a spectator.

Heath Slocum hopes to give him something to cheer about.

“I’d like to throw myself in the mix (of contenders),” Heath Slocum said. “I’ve got good memories going into this week. I’ve played this course pretty well. It’s just a matter if I can play my game and make some putts along the way.”

Putts will be the key at the par-72, 7,199-yard golf course where the greens are new. The club switched from bentgrass greens to Bermuda.

The surface change will add bite to a course where champions have averaged 267 since 2000.

“It’s almost like playing a new golf course with the greens like this,” Slocum said.

Thirteen major winners are entered in the tournament, which this year plays opposite the American Express Championship in Hertfordshire, England.

The Mississippi tournament has struggled to draw top players in the past. But this year, a handful of Top 50 money winners are entered in the field of 132, and the more competitive greens are getting some of the credit for that, Slocum said.

The old greens at the course a few miles north of Jackson suffered under the Mississippi sun and have been soft and pitted with ball marks, footprints and other obstacles in recent tournaments, several players said.

Many golfers target the tournament because it offers them a late-season chance to make a move on the money list or ensure they are qualified for the tour next season. But Todd Hamilton said the improved grass is important because a course with quality concerns isn’t likely to be a hot draw among those who sit higher on the money list.

“It could be nice designwise, but if it’s not in very good shape, I personally wouldn’t want to play and I bet 75 percent of the guys wouldn’t want to play either,” Hamilton said.

The course’s previous condition hampered putting, but the softness of the greens also helped lower scores. Slocum won last year with a 21-under-par 267.

xcluding the weather-shortened 2002 tournament, the winning score has been an average of 267 since 2000.

And the cut to 70 players after two rounds has been under par for 10 of the last 11 years.

“It will be tougher,” Bernhard Langer said of the improvements. “Whenever the greens are soft, you can fire it in there like darts. It will be tougher to chip, tougher to hit approach shots close, harder to hit the second shots on par-5s. You’re not going to hold a 3-wood in there, so I would think the scores will be higher.”