BROUSSARD — Michael Smith and Brian Rowell are both trying to catch that lightning in a bottle again this week.
The two Lafayette golfers are in the main field for the $550,000 Chitimacha Louisiana Open Presented by NACHER, hoping that this time is the charm, the opportunity, the springboard to professional success.
Smith and Rowell are in the field on sponsor exemptions, receiving two of the four spots in the 144-player field that are available at the discretion of the local event. It’s a good and bad thing ... they’re in the main field here when championship play begins Thursday, but they have no status for the next Web.com Tour event or for any other this season. Their only ticket into future Tour events is through the rigors of Monday qualifying.
Unless, of course, either one finishes in the top 25 this week. That finish would insure a spot in the Tour’s next event, that one being the April 16-19 El Bosque Mexico Championship. A succession of good finishes could put them into position to get into more events when the membership has one of its regular “shuffles” of priority status.
“That’s what we’re all trying to do, to get out here full time,” said Rowell, who will be making his third appearance in the past four Opens.
“It’s so hard to get in,” Smith said. “This tournament and this tour, even the mini-tours, players are just getting better and better. There’s really good golfers everywhere.”
Both were sponsor exemptions each of thepast two years. Rowell missed the cut by one stroke last year at 141 and Smith was at 143 even with a sterling five-under 66 in the final round. One year earlier, Rowell was two off the cut line at 141 after an opening 68 and Smith was at 144.
Both have tasted the Open weekend, though. Rowell made the cut in 2006 before he moved to Lafayette, finishing tied for 21st in the field, and also made the cut in 2011 in finishing tied for 48th. Smith, a former standout on UL-Lafayette’s collegiate squad, made the cut in 2010, rolling in a final-hole birdie putt late Friday afternoon to go 70-70 and make the cut on the number.
“Obviously, I haven’t played as well as I would have liked here,” said Smith, who played with his father, Dennis, and brothers Matt and Petey in Monday’s pro-am. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself here ... there’s no other place that you would rather play better than here.”
Rowell has a different type of pressure. He’s a member at the host Le Triomphe course, and the back door of his family’s home is a chip shot from the tee box at the treacherous No. 8 hole.
“I’m just very appreciative of the tournament giving me the opportunity,” he said. “I’m just going to go out and have fun and do the best I can.”
Both know the odds are against them. But that lightning has been caught before. Russell Henley was a sponsor’s exemption in the Web.com Tour’s 2011 Stadion Classic in Georgia and won the title. Two players with local connections — former UL-Lafayette standout Rob McKelvey and ex-Lafayette resident Ryan Hietala — won the Open title in 2000 and 2005, respectively.
Until that break comes, both are honing their games and battling through the rigors of the mini-tours before making another run at the Tour’s “Q-School” qualifying tournament at the end of the year. Both were regulars on last year’s Adams Tour, which stages events in Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Smith finished fourth on that money list with $38,544 in 13 events and Rowell 26th with $17,218 in 11 events.
Both also competed in last week’s Coke/Dr. Pepper Walmart Open in Alexandria, the first Adams Tour event of the year, with Smith finishing 22nd with a seven-under 281 score.
“All I want is to go out and play relaxed and play as good as I can,” Smith said.
The Advance Fire & Safety Pro-Am at 8 a.m. and the Louisiana Blasting & Coating Pro-Am at 1:15 p.m. highlight Wednesday’s tournament activities before the 7:35 a.m. start of championship play Thursday.
A total of 54 teams of four amateurs and one touring pro will play in the two pro-am events. Smith, Rowell, former LSU standout Smylie Kaufman and three players who have already won on the Web.com Tour this year — Mathew Goggin, Andrew Landry and Peter Malnati — highlight the morning field.
The afternoon pro-am includes all-time Tour win leader Jason Gore (seven titles), ex-Cajun All-American and 1994 Shell Houston Open champion Mike Heinen, former Louisiana Open champion Brett Wetterich, four-time PGA Tour winner and Baton Rouge native Heath Slocum, and 19-year-old Chinese sensation Hao Tong Li, who will be making his first appearance in a U.S. professional event this week.
The final 12 spots in the Open field were filled Monday at the two open qualifying tournaments on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and there was drama at each — huge drama at one.
At Windance Country Club in Gulfport, Miss., 13 players wound up tied for the sixth and final qualifying spot at four-under 68, and Joseph Gunerman of Brooklyn Park, Md., wound up as the survivor of that baker’s dozen playoff to earn his way into the field.
A few miles away at The Oaks in Pass Christian, Miss., nine players tied for the fourth through sixth qualifying spots with a five-under 67, and Jin Park of Phoenix, Ariz., Gregor Main of Danville, Calif., and Ryan Yip of Indio, Calif., claimed the three spots in another playoff.
Michael Letzig of Reston, Va., blazed to a nine-under 63 at Windance to take top honors there, while Tyler Dunlap of Trophy Club, Texas, and Sean Jacklin of Bradenton, Fla., were both at 66 and Daniel Miernicki of Santee, Calif., and Ryan Brehm of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., were at 67.
At The Oaks, Seth Fair of Brownsburg, Ind., Brent Witcher of Atlanta and Wes Homan of Cincinnati, all carded six-under 66’s to take the top three qualifying spots.
Miernicki, Witcher, Homan, Park and Yip all have status on the Web.com Tour, while Brehm has status on PGA Tour Canada.