BROUSSARD — One of the strongest fields in tournament history is expected, and that field will be gunning for a $550,000 purse beginning Thursday when the Chitimacha Louisiana Open Presented by NACHER returns to Le Triomphe Golf Club for the 24th consecutive year.
The event will have a 144-player field, including as many as six former champions, when the PGA Tour’s Web.com Tour makes its first appearance on U.S. soil this year.
And now that the Web.com Tour is essentially the only path for players to advance to the PGA Tour, after last year’s restructuring, the quality of the field figures to be the highest in the Open’s 25-year history when championship play begins at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot of very recognizable names in the field, players that golf fans will know,” Open executive director Danny Jones said. “More importantly, we’ve got some names that people are going to see playing on TV later this year and in years to come. There are going to be a lot in this field that will be very successful PGA Tour players in the next few years.”
That field will be announced late Friday, with players having until 5 p.m. to declare their intent to enter. Championship play runs Thursday-Sunday over the 7,067-yard par-71 Le Triomphe layout with waves going off both the Nos. 1 and 10 tees in the morning and afternoon. The field will be cut to the low 65 and ties after Friday’s second round.
Daily tickets are $10 with week-long clubhouse passes $40 and skybox passes $65, and are available at the Louisiana Open’s on-course office or by calling (337) 593-8000. Daily tickets will be available at the gate on competition days. Much of the tournament’s ticket revenue is returned to area charities, with the Open contributing nearly $5 million to local and regional charities since its founding in 1992.
Tournament activities actually begin Sunday with the finals of the Cypress Bayou Casino & Hotel $1 Million Hole-in-One Shootout at 3:30 p.m. at Le Triomphe’s 8th hole. More than 50 qualifiers will take one shot at a $1 million prize for a hole-in-one, and the closest shot to the pin will win a $1,000 prize.
The Dwight Andrus Insurance Pro-Am tees off at 9 a.m. Monday, and following a Tuesday player practice round the Advance Fire & Safety Pro-Am and the Louisiana Blasting & Coating Pro-Am are Wednesday at 8 a.m. and 1:15 p.m..
A total of 132 players will be in the field when entries close Friday. A dozen more players will gain entry at two Monday qualifying sites, The Oaks in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and Windance Country Club in Gulfport, Mississippi, with six qualifying at each site.
Along with the Web.com touring pros, the field will have local flavor courtesy of the Open’s four sponsor exemptions. Most prominent in that group is Mike Heinen, the Rayne native and former UL-Lafayette All-American who holds a PGA Tour championship at the 1994 Shell Houston Open. Heinen is playing under a Web.com Tour exemption that allows entry to former PGA Tour players age 48-49 to prepare them to join the Champions Tour upon reaching age 50.
Michael Smith and Brian Rowell of Lafayette, both of whom have qualified for and competed in the U.S. Open over the past three years, are also in the field on exemptions. Former LSU standout Smylie Kaufman, who also competed in the U.S. Open last summer and who holds provisional status on the Web.com Tour, has the Louisiana Open’s other exemption.
“We’ve always aimed local with our exemptions,” Jones said. “We want to give players who are familiar to local fans the opportunity, but at the same time we’re not giving exemptions unless we truly feel they have a chance to compete, to make the cut and get into that top 25 to put them into more Tour events. Hopefully our tournament will be their chance to become Tour regulars.”
Edward Loar of Dallas, who won last year’s $99,000 first prize, is back on the Web.com Tour this year and figures to be back to defend his title. He finished tied for 22nd at the Cartegena de Indias Championship in Cartegena, Colombia, two weeks ago, but missed the cut at last weekend’s Brasil Championship in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The Web.com Tour plays five South America and Latin America events this year before opening its U.S. segment at Le Triomphe. The Tour has already played events in Panama City, Panama and Bogota, Colombia along with the Cartegena and Brazil events, and is in Santiago, Chile this weekend for the Chile Classic before the tour heads to Acadiana.
In all, the “Path to the PGA Tour” has 24 events on its 2015 schedule including a four-tournament “finals” at the end of the year that will determine a total of 50 PGA Tour card recipients that will come from the Web.com Tour ranks this year. Prize purses on this year’s Web.com Tour total over $17.8 million.
The percentage of PGA Tour players who are Web.com Tour alumni increases every year, in great part through that revised advancement format, and now over 75 percent of PGA Tour members played on the Web.com Tour.
Web.com alumni have won over 400 times on the PGA Tour including 19 majors.
“Our goal is to bring world-class golf to Acadiana and South Louisiana,” Jones said, “and we think we’ll accomplish that goal again this year. With the way the tour advances players, our field is a strong one and it’s only going to get stronger in the future. We’re hoping that fans will come out and support us and the players, and that will help us support the charities that we benefit.”