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Invitational another showdown of youth, experience

By DAVE THEALL
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 2, 2002

The New Year's Invitational at St. Petersburg Country Club, a 72-hole tournament in its 76th season, again will pit veteran club members against a surging youth movement led by college players.

In recent years, it has been collegians in their early 20s dominating players in their early 40s.

However, many of those young winners have turned pro -- defending champion Akio Sadakata, runner-up Paul Tucker and Ty Tryon, 17, a fourth-place finisher last year who earned his PGA Tour card in the 2001 Qualifying Tournament finals for the 2002 campaign.

The college winners in 1999 and 2000, Steve Scott of Florida and Jeff Klauk of Florida Southern, also have become professionals.

Klauk owns the tournament record with a 21-under 267. That included a final round 65 to overtake 54-hole leader Nick Cassini of the University of Georgia.

John Hope, a member at the host club and the 12th-year director of the tournament, has an explanation for the youth movement.

"Young players are getting better instruction earlier in their careers," Hope said. "They are mechanically sound and have already faced good competition, at the junior and college level, before coming here.

"Also, they've been influenced by the Tiger Woods phenomenon to the extent that they see greater possibilities for themselves," Hope said. "And right now, there's just a larger pool of exceptional young talent."

Tampa's Kevin Mock, a senior at North Florida, is a member of that elite group. He won the New Year's Invitational in 1998, tied for second in the 1999 Avila Invitational, and was co-runner-up in the 2000 Florida State Amateur.

Other favorites in the four-round event that begins Thursday include:

Eric Labitzke, a UNF player who won the 1999 Cardinal Amateur.

B.J. Pitzen, a senior at Florida Southern who made the NCAA Division II All-America team in 2000-01.

Andrew Medley, an Ole Miss senior who finished fourth his last year and won the 2001 Eastern Amateur Championship. Four Ole Miss teammates are in the field.

The local youth standouts include Mike Barbosa (Georgia Tech), Kyle Christman (Winthrop University) and Kyle McCarthy (Eckerd).

Vaughn McCarthy, Kyle's father, is in the tourney.

Another veteran to watch is John Corzilius of Nokomis, the 1993 and '97 winner. He is a scratch player and has been in the top six every year but two since first competing in 1987.

Other top veterans are Mel Murray of Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada, twice a runner-up for the Canadian Mid-Amateur title, and Marshall Ames of Feather Sound.

In the senior division, St. Petersburg Country Club member Spencer Gaylord has a course-familiarity edge. He won the 55-and-over division in 1996 and is the club champion.

Gaylord will try to dethrone 2001 winner Don Lucas of Tampa.

Other low handicap players in the senior division include Michael Garber of Pinehurst, N.C., and Brian Jeffery of Collingwood, Ontario, Canada.

The 18-hole record of 8-under 63 is held by Pete Arend, a former member of the club who posted it in the 1960 tourney.

One record that won't be broken is owned by former member Buddy Alexander, the coach of the 2001 NCAA champion Gators. He has six wins.

Alexander's victories span three decades. He won as an 18-year-old in 1972 and five other times, including 1991 when he established a tournament record of 16-under 272.

The championship group will tee off from 6,800 yards, the seniors from approximately 6,300 on the Herbert Strong-designed course that opened in 1924.

It has been played by such luminaries as baseball great Babe Ruth. Thursday's tee off time is 11 a.m. There will be a 10 a.m. start the following three days.

JUNIOR CHALLENGE: The Florida Junior Golf Association will stage the Tampa Collegiate Classic at the USF course Jan. 12-13. For information, go online to www.fjga.com.

RE-OPENING: Belleview Biltmore, which has been closed for renovations since May, is targeted to re-open Jan. 11 for members and resort guests.

The course is expected to be back in business for outside play Jan. 18-20. Belleview Biltmore opened in 1925. It was designed by noted Scotch architect Donald Ross.

DIAMOND JUBILEE: Dunedin Country Club, which opened in 1927, will celebrate its 75th year on Jan. 19 with a scramble tournament offering $2,500 in team prizes.

TRANSITION: Vinoy assistant pro Kevin Carlson, 28, has been appointed director of golf at Don Shula's Golf Club at Miami Lakes.

Carlson was selected over 40 applicants.

Dean Wilson has resigned as head pro at Pasadena.

He has moved to Orlando where he will work in golf sales and prepare for Senior Tour qualifying.

HISTORY LESSON: The Times ranked the top-100 sports stories of the century in December 1999.

The golf stories that made the list were:

24. Jack Nicklaus winning his sixth Masters in 1986.

35. Woods capturing the 1997 Masters.

37. Arnold Palmer rallying from seven back to win the 1960 U.S. Open.

53. Gene Sarazen recording a double eagle en route to a victory in the 1935 Masters.

69. Rookie Nancy Lopez winning five consecutive LPGA tournaments in 1978.

74. Ben Hogan taking the 1953 Masters and U.S. and British Open titles.

75. Byron Nelson winning 11 consecutive PGA tourneys in 1945.

91. Bobby Jones capturing golf's first Grand Slam in 1930.

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