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November 23, 2014

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Transitional year for Timberlake Shriners Open not stunting momentum

Las Vegas’ PGA tournament scheduled for the first weekend of October

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Steve Marcus

Las Vegas resident Kevin Na, top left, hits from a fairway during the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011.

Kevin Na wins Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

Las Vegas resident Kevin Na celebrates on the 18th hole after winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Kevin Na knows something that PGA Tour fans around Las Vegas don’t.

Asked what the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open turning into an official FedEx Cup points event would mean for the field of professionals, the 28-year old local defending champion smirked and chose his words carefully.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to drop names,” Na said. “If I drop names and they don’t show up, it’s going to look bad. But I did hear some guys talk about it.”

Las Vegas’ annual tournament becomes associated with the PGA Tour’s championship race for the first time next year. If someone at the JT Shriners Open media day Wednesday at TPC Summerlin didn’t already know that, however, they would have left assuming the new format started right away.

That’s how much excitement and speculation about the future filled the clubhouse. But there’s still the matter of this year’s event, scheduled for Oct. 4 through Oct. 7, before the tournament undergoes its prestige enhancement.

FedEx Cup hysteria hasn’t gotten in the way of preparing tirelessly for this year’s four rounds of golf, according to Tournament Director Adam Sperling.

“While we’re spending a lot of time on our future and looking at the future, it’s impossible to take your eye off of the ball,” Sperling said. “Without a successful tournament this year, next year is going to be much more of a challenge. We’re just trying to keep the momentum going.”

The tournament can claim an abundance of momentum for perhaps the first time in recent memory. Under Sperling’s watch, attendance has increased in each of the last three years.

Shriners will serve as the title sponsor for the fifth consecutive year. The organization recently signed on for another five years.

For a tournament that’s switched title sponsors as frequently as the TPC Summerlin grounds staff manicures the grass in the past, a decade-long partnership is a major reason for celebration.

Before Shriners got involved in 2007, the tournament saw four different title sponsors in seven years.

“If you get a different group involved every couple years, they have different agendas and different goals,” Sperling said. “It’s hard to get anything to stick.”

Everyone currently involved is committed to bringing Southern Nevada the highest quality tournament possible annually. The move to make the JT Shriners Open a FedEx Cup points tournament helps in all new areas.

The world’s most famous players — the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — routinely skipped Las Vegas in the past because the tournament was part of the Fall Series and carried no real stakes to entice them. With the JT Shriners Open beginning to offer a chance for an early lead in the PGA season next year, the top golfers will have to reassess their logic.

“I’m really happy to see the tournament moved into a full FedEx Cup points tournament,” Na said. “Now that it’s at the beginning of the year, I think it will create a little more buzz for the guys wanting to get off to a good start.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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