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The ultimate golf gamble

We watch professional golfers play for millions of dollars every week, wondering how they deal with the pressure.

By BOB HARIG
Published May 29, 2007


We watch professional golfers play for millions of dollars every week, wondering how they deal with the pressure. Then comes the realization that the pressure would be so much more intense if it were their own money on the line. Sure, it's tough to miss a putt worth $500, 000. It might be worse knowing that $50, 000 of your own money went down the drain with it. Or at least the money of someone who supported you. And that's the beauty of The Ultimate Game. Starting today in Las Vegas, 40 golfers - including six from Florida - will vie for a $2-million first prize while risking $50, 000 each. And there is no second-place cushion. The winner gets the big money while the rest have a chance to make their money back plus a $50, 000 bonus. "It's a great event that sounds too good to be true but is true, " said Randy Leen, 31, a mini-tour player who lives in Palm Beach Gardens. "The great thing about this format is if you can get to the stroke-play part, it could come down to a 3-foot putt for $2-million. And if you miss it ... nothing."

Feeling the heat

Leen has a sponsor who put up the $50, 000 for him. And should he win two matches to make it to the finals, where 12 players will compete for the $2-million, he gets $100, 000 - enough to pay back his sponsor plus a cut. But unless he wins the entire 36-hole shootout next week, that is all he gets. And if he is bounced out by Wednesday, the $50, 000 plus expenses is gone.

"If it was my own money, I wouldn't have to feel the pressure for anybody on the outside, " Leen said. "But pressure is pressure. You do your best to block that out. I've been playing for eight years and I've had to worry about spending other people's money. So you feel pressure no matter who is paying, no matter who is flipping the bill. But once you're on the golf course, you're in your own world."

Tour players need not apply

The rules stipulate that to enter you can never have been a fully exempt member of the PGA, Nationwide, Champions or European tours. Leen, who played college golf at Indiana University, made it to the finals of the PGA Tour's Qualifying School in 1999 and achieved limited status on the Nationwide Tour.

He has not been able to make it back since, jumping around various mini tours. This year he is playing the Gateway Tour in South Florida, formerly known as the Golden Bear Tour.

"It's pretty much a no-brainer to play in an event like this when somebody is paying your way and there is a $2-million purse, " Leen said.

The other players from Florida in the field are Erik Compton of Miami, Alan Morin of Royal Palm Beach, Justin Peters of Plantation, Rick Rhoden of Ponte Vedra Beach and Lee Troever of Jupiter.

Others entered are Spencer Levin, 22, low amateur at the 2004 U.S. Open who is now playing the Canadian Tour; Billy Joe Tolliver, who played 10 years in the NFL; Larry Tedesco, a former assistant golf pro at Augusta National; and Dave Schreyer, the winner of 10 Hooters Tour events.

Rhoden, a former major-league baseball pitcher who has been a prolific winner on the Celebrity Golf Tour, said he expects the competition to be intense.

"Like in baseball, there is a lot of talent in the minor leagues, " Rhoden said. "But you have to learn your craft and you have to learn to get it on the course. This is a great idea, obviously."

Golf's largest winning purses:

Ultimate Game $2M

Players Championship $1.44M

British Open $1.338M

Tour Championship $1.17M

PGA Championship $1.224M

U.S. Open $1.125M

Masters $1.26M

Fast Facts:

 

The Ultimate Game

When: Today and Wednesday

Where: Reflection Bay Golf Club, Henderson, Nev.; Wynn Las Vegas.

Entry fee: $50, 000 per player.

Total purse: $3.1-million

Winner receives: $2-million.

Eligibility: The tournament was open to any male or female golfer who has never been a fully exempt member of the PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Champions Tour or Nationwide Tour.

TV: Portions of the 36-hole stroke-play event on June 7-8 will be televised by Fox.

Information: www.theultimategame.com.

Format: The tournament begins today with 20 18-hole matches with losers going into a consolation bracket. Another 10 matches from the winner's side will be contested Wednesday, with the winners advancing to the finals and the 10 losers headed to the consolation bracket. Those 10 winners who captured two matches get back their $50, 000 entry fee and are paid another $50, 000 for the berth in the finals.

The 20 losers from today play each other in 10 matches on Wednesday, with the losers eliminated. The 10 losers from the Day 2 Championship Bracket play the 10 winners from the first round of the Consolation Bracket in an 18-hole stroke play event. The two lowest scores get back the $50, 000 entry fee and advance to the finals.

There will be 12 players in next week's 36-hole stroke-play competition, with the winner receiving $2-million.