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Sauers a fine advert for secondary tour

Gene Sauers is living proof of what our parents told us years ago: If you believe in yourself and keep working hard, good things will happen.

He also is a great example of the multiple dimensions of the Nationwide Tour, not to mention the value of that tour.

The good thing that happened to Sauers was his winning the Air Canada Championship last year. It was his first victory on the PGA Tour since the 1989 Hawaiian Open.

In the intervening years, Sauers played a lot of golf on the PGA Tour, but as the '90s dwindled, so did his exemptions. Starting in 1998, Sauers began spending much of his time on the Nationwide Tour, playing a dozen to 18 events each year. The money on the Nike Tour, as it was called in those times, wasn't great, but it was real money, and it provided Sauers a place to play golf. With his only exemption being that of a former champion, Sauers wasn't making it into many PGA Tour fields.

Not that it was easy to drop down to the Nationwide Tour for a veteran.

"Going back to the Tour, Nike Tour, it was hard to swallow," Sauers said. "Of course, the purses now are getting up a bit better on the Nationwide Tour, as it's called now. It kind of made me feel, 'I need to get back out where I belong.' The last couple years, I grinded pretty hard, I achieved it. It's great to be back."

And Sauers really does appear to be back. In the Mercedes Championships last week, he tied for 10th and earned $125,000, more money he made in the past two years on the Nationwide.

There were times, Sauers said, when he came close to quitting.

"About the last two or three years," he said. "My wife (Tammy) said, 'You can go ahead and quit now, I'll get a job. You'll have to take care of these three boys.'

"I said, 'I don't think so.'

"So she lit the fire under my butt."

If not for the Nationwide Tour, Sauers said, the win in Canada last season most likely would not have happened.

"I wouldn't have had no place to play," Sauers said. "Those few years, I wouldn't have no income."

While the Nationwide was a step down for Sauers, for most players it is a step up, a step toward the goal of riches and fame on the PGA Tour.

Chris Riley, who won his first PGA title last season at the Reno- Tahoe Classic, is one of the younger guys who has made the progression from the Nationwide Tour to the PGA.

Oddly enough, he and Sauers were paired in the opening round of the Mercedes. Both played well that Thursday, but their grouping was a study in the contrasts of the junior tour. Each player fed off the other's good play as they recorded identical 8-under-par 65s.

"When I came onto the Nike Tour in '98, I think he was out there playing," Riley said of Sauers. "College kid out of college, I know he's won some events on the PGA Tour. I was kind of intimidated by Gene Sauers, the veterans out there. You're like, 'Man, he's Gene Sauers,' you know he's won some tournaments."

Such is the fame, at least among men who play golf professionally, of having won on the PGA Tour.

"Coming out of college, they're all hungry, they're all fired up, ready to play," Sauers said of players like Riley and Charles Howell III.

That doesn't mean Sauers isn't hungry.

"I think I'm hungrier now," he said. "When I first started, I was hungry, then everything kind of went south. Now, like I say, I got a second lease on life. And, yes, I am hungry. I'm going to have to grind harder to try to keep up with these young guys, which is going to be kind of tough, but I think I can do it."


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