Sta. Rosa, Laguna—Two former champions, a reigning Philippine Open titlist, a couple of emerging stars plus the rest in last year’s Philippine Golf Tour Order of Merit Top 30 slug it out in a survival of the fittest right in today’s (Wednesday) start of The Country Club Invitational at the TCC course here.
The select cast all vow to give their respective 2020 campaign a big boost, the P5 million event being the kickoff leg of the country’s premier circuit, guaranteeing a spirited battle in all four days and another wild, unpredictable finish that has become the norm in what has long been considered as a golfing major for its prize fund, cast and prestige.
But they are in for a tough, exacting week given the Tom Weiskoph-designed layout’s length (7576 yards), its soft bunkers and sleek surface and the wind that is expected to blow hard and come into play in most holes in all four days.
“The course is long (for me), especially in the presence of the wind. I shot an 81 in practice and even used my driver for my second shot in one hole,” said Tony Lascuña, who won way back in 2004 and lost by one to Cassius Casas in 2014. “Even with a 3-wood, I can barely reach some of the par-4s, so it’s going to be tough and would require a solid short game to contend.”
Meanwhile, the 2020 PGT season was launched in brief rites yesterday with TCC board director Joey Camara gracing the event along with the TCC Invitational cast.
For the first time, the men’s tour will be held on the same day with the ladies starting with the ICTSI Summit Point Challenge on March 25-28 in Lipa City, Batangas followed by the Delimondo National Pro-Am on May 13-16 at Splendido and the ICTSI Royal Northwoods Challenge on May 26-29 in San Rafael, Bulacan.
The PGT Qualifying School for local and foreign players, on the other hand, will be held March 10-13, also at Splendido.
The rest of the schedule for the new season is being finalized amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also on tap are the last two legs of the 2019 PGT Asia season at Riviera (ICTSI Riviera Challenge) on March 17-20 and the ICTSI Southwoods Classic on March 31-April 3.
The PGT Asia Q-School will be held April 22-25 at Luisita which will also host the first leg of the fourth season on April 28-May 1.
“The long, straight hitters have the edge here. It (course) is too long. I used a driver on par-3 11th but still came up short,” said Frankie Miñoza, who reigned here in 2013 after edging the Bayrons brothers—Jay and Rufino—on the second playoff hole. He also seeks a solid showing but more so of inspiring the young players, who make up the core of the elite field.
“The bunkers are very soft so it will be doubly difficult to blast out since the ball would sink,” he added. “But I will just enjoy and play my game. This course is beautiful but also the toughest.”
“The wind was actually manageable today (yesterday). But while I’ve been hitting long and straight off the tee, I think it’s going to boil down to short game,” said reigning Phl Open champion Clyde Mondilla, who, like Minoza, is also wary of TCC’s menacing sand traps.
Lascuña, who snapped a long title spell with three straight victories late last year, including one in PGT Asia in Taiwan, heads the chase for the top P1.5 million purse, upbeat and ready to mix it up with his peers and even with a slew of young turks aiming to extend their run to a third straight year.
Micah Shin, 23, and Kim Joo Hyung, 17, topped the last two editions of the event put up ICTSI president/chairman in 2003 to honor the memory of his father and ICTSI founder Don Pocholo with both escaping with one-stroke victories over Miguel Tabuena and Keanu Jahns, respectively.
Completing the cast are Jahns, Michael Bibat, Ira Alido, Reymon Jaraula, Dutch Guido Van der Valk, Rufino Bayron, Jay Bayron, Jhonnel Ababa, James Ryan Lam, Fidel Concepcion, Nilo Salahog, Richard Sinfuego, Elmer Salvador, Rico Depilo, Albin Engino, Ferdie Aunzo, Jerson Balasabas, Rene Menor, Zanieboy Gialon, Mhark Fernando, Paul Echavez, Marcos Pastor of Spain, Gerald Rosales, American Lexus Keoninh, Joenard Rates, Art Arbole and Rupert Zaragosa.