Originally created 07/18/02

Sluman says he'd have played in Muirfield if he could



ENDICOTT, N.Y. -- Don't get Jeff Sluman wrong, he's no ingrate.

Sluman, who won last week in Milwaukee, is happy enough to be defending his B.C. Open title this week.

But the En-Joie Golf Club is no Muirfield and the B.C. Open isn't exactly the British Open, where the elite of the golfing world is gathered this week to contest Tiger Woods' attempt to win the third leg of the 2002 Grand Slam.

"Had I qualified, I would be over there, most definitely," Sluman said Wednesday.

Sluman, enjoying a resurgence at 44, barely missed playing at Muirfield by finishing 21st on the 2001 PGA money list. The British Open automatically accepts the top 20 money winners on the American tour.

Sluman failed to qualify at this year's Western Open, where the top eight finishers who are not already exempt could get into the British Open. And he opted not to play in this year's Scottish Open or the 36-hole qualifying events in England as the British Open awarded the last spots in the tournament.

"I think if you look up and down the list there are a lot of wonderful players here and a chance for the younger guys to make a breakthrough and the chance for veterans to show that they've still got something left in the tank," Sluman said.

As he spoke outside the modest clubhouse at the En-Joie Golf Club, other tour players and caddies congratulated Sluman for his four-stroke victory last week at the Greater Milwaukee Open.

It was Sluman's sixth victory on the PGA tour - the fourth since he turned 40 on Sept. 11, 1997 - and it pushed him to 26th on the 2002 money list.

Sluman, a native of Rochester, N.Y., about three hours from Endicott, beat Paul Gow on the second playoff hole in last year's B.C. Open. That broke an 0-for-6 streak for Sluman in playoffs.

"I don't really view it as a lesser event in one regard, but the best players - I mean Tiger, everybody - is over there at the British," Sluman said. "It is a major. This is what it is here."

B.C. Open Director Mike Norman said the tournament "obviously would like to have a better date so we're not playing opposite the British Open."

Norman said he understands the desire of any pro golfer, even a defending champion like Sluman, to play the British rather than the B.C. Open.

"That's their living, that's their job and that's their priority," Norman said. "Having said that, I'm disappointed to see that they didn't qualify at the British and I'm happy to see them at the B.C. Open."

Only four of the top 50 money winners on the 2002 PGA tour are in the B.C. Open field: Sluman, Pat Perez (33rd), David Peoples (34th) and Fred Funk (45th).

The 6,974-yard, par-72 En-Joie course is one of four public or municipal courses used for regular PGA tour events. It is also one of the easiest. Sluman won last year with a 22-under total of 266, and no B.C. Open champion has ever won with an over-par round in any of the four rounds of the tournament in their title years.

The winner gets $378,000 out of a total purse of $2.1 million. It is the lowest prize money of any regular PGA tour event. Prize money will increase to $3 million in 2003.