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Golf Tidbits: Special week for Tour rookie

Kevin Currie, Golf Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When it comes to playing in their hometown or even home state, golfers revel in the pressure of showing off in front of their closest fans.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the perfect examples of this. The two have combined for nine wins -- six for Tiger, three for Phil -- at the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, which is within driving distance of where the two grew up.

Mickelson also won the FBR Open in Scottsdale two times. That event is near Arizona State University, where Mickelson played collegiately.

Other players that come to mind who always seem to play well in their local area include -- New Jersey-born, long-time Rhode Island resident Brad Faxon, who won four of his eight PGA Tour titles in New England; Kentucky's Kenny Perry, who parlayed the hometown crowd to a 2-1-1 record at the Ryder Cup last year; and you can't overlook Davis Love III.

Born in North Carolina, Love played golf at UNC and has collected eight titles in the Carolinas. He won twice in Greensboro and has six wins at the Heritage in South Carolina.

The subject applies because this week, PGA Tour rookie Jeff Klauk has a leg up on the entire field, and that includes Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk, who call the TPC Sawgrass their home course.

Klauk is playing The Players Championship for the first time as a professional, but he will be not be playing the TPC Sawgrass for the first time. That happened when he was 10!

Klauk's father, Fred, retired from his job as the course superintendent at TPC Sawgrass after last year's Player's Championship. Dating to his days as a teenager, Jeff has done just about every job you can think of around this venue.

The 31-year-old recalled Wednesday that the first time he started doing work around the course was in high school, after a speeding ticket incurred while returning from a junior golf event put him in a financial pinch.

Within two weeks, the younger Klauk was pressed into service cutting the grass on the greens, filling divots and doing anything to earn the money he needed to pay the ticket. That grunt work turned into a regular job for Klauk. Thanks to that experience, Klauk knows nearly every nook and cranny of the TPC Sawgrass. He realizes that isn't totally to his advantage though.

"Familiarity-wise, I think I definitely have an advantage, but I've never played it under these fast conditions which they're going to be," Klauk stated. "I mean, my lines off the tee, I feel very familiar with where I'm going to hit it. But you know, this golf course changes so much, even from last week to this week, and it's going to change a lot from yesterday to tomorrow. An advantage? Maybe a little bit, but experience-wise, no, some of the regular guys have got it."

So how does he plan on attacking the golf course this week?

"I've played the golf course with all the stands and stuff up, but definitely not with all the people around during a practice round," said Klauk, who estimates he's played over 1,000 rounds at the TPC Sawgrass. "So it kind of feels the same as when I'm out there playing with my friends and stuff like that, which is the way I'm going to try to approach the week, just like I'm out there playing with my buddies. Obviously I'll be nervous, but it'll be good, a good type of nervous."

Regardless of how he plays this week, Klauk owes a special thanks to Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Once those two confirmed they were skipping the Players Championship, Klauk was officially in the field, and could not get bumped out if a non-qualifier for the tournament won last week and gained entry into the field this week.

LIKE PERRY LAST YEAR, KELLY TO SKIP BRITISH OPEN

Last year, Kenny Perry decided to skip the British Open so he could play in the opposite event, the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. He did this so that he could have a better chance at earning a solid finish, and then gain a spot on the United States Ryder Cup team. Perry accomplished that mission, thanks in part to his tie for sixth in Milwaukee.

Jerry Kelly, a Madison, Wisconsin native, is going to follow Perry's lead and skip the British Open to play the U.S. Bank Championship. Kelly's reason for skipping the season's third major championship is completely different though.

In recent months, Kelly has been doing nearly everything he can to save the event, because U.S. Bank announced that it will not renew its contract as the tournament's sponsor after this season. Kelly, who had already committed to the British Open, realized that his efforts to salvage the tournament would be tougher if he wasn't going to play it himself.

So, he contacted British Open officials and withdrew his name from the field. And boy, is that a major turn of events. In recent years, Kelly had called out players like Perry and Fred Funk for skipping the British Open to play in Milwaukee. Now that his hometown event is in danger of disappearing, Kelly is doing whatever it takes to keep the event in Milwaukee and on the PGA Tour schedule.

"I had my British Open entry, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach that I'd miss Milwaukee and it would be the last one," Kelly admitted. "And it better not be the last one. How can I call out all these people without backing it up myself?"

MINI-TIDBITS

- Spanish great Seve Ballesteros made his first public appearance recently after undergoing four surgeries and chemotherapy to remove a cancerous brain tumor. By his own estimation, Ballesteros is 90-percent recovered from his surgery. "I suffered like a dog, but the fact that I was a professional sportsman and used to competing and fighting helped me," Ballesteros said.

- Among the record 9,086 golfers that put in an application to play the U.S. Open were several professional athletes from other sports. That group includes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver, three former pro hockey players -- Grant Fuhr, Dan Quinn and Mike Dunham -- as well as Erik Hanson and Chris Sabo, who both played major league baseball

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Kevin Currie at kcurrie@sportsnetwork.com.

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