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Jeff Sluman biggest fan of Milwaukee Open

Defending champion Jeff Sluman is a big fan of the Greater Milwaukee Open, which he's won twice in the last five years.

But he thinks next year's switch from the weekend before the British Open to the weekend after can only help turn on more golfers to Brew City's Brown Deer Park Golf Course.

"I would think all the guys that always want to play Milwaukee are going to play anyway. And coming back home (from England), it's usually a direct shot right into Chicago, so it's not that big of a flight time deal. Leave on Monday, get here on Monday afternoon, drive up and play," Sluman said.

Some golfers, of course, could make it back by the weekend with plenty of time to rest up for the GMO.

"You might get guys, quite candidly, that go over to the British Open and miss the cut, and then you've got that good time frame. Maybe they'll call over and say, 'I wasn't thinking about playing Milwaukee but now I missed the cut.' You might catch a few guys that way."

The GMO has long had a tough time getting a good date on the PGA Tour, in large part because it lacks a title sponsor the underwrite the purse - a record $3.5 million this year - and pay for televising costs.

The tournament was scheduled before the British Open in the 1980s before being moved to a mid-September date and then to Labor Day weekend. In 1999, commissioner Tim Finchem moved the GMO back to the week preceding the British Open.

As a result of all the undesirable dates, the GMO hasn't always had a deep field of top golfers, although Tiger Woods made his pro debut here in 1996 and Greg Norman was the world's top golfer when he came in 1989.

"Date is a big deal. Sometimes dates can really help you and sometimes they can really hurt. I like this date better" because it's after the Western Open, said Sluman, who lives in Hinsdale, Ill.

"I think a lot of guys were a little hesitant to come here (in September) thinking it would be too cold," Sluman said. "The first year I won here I think it was over the Labor Day weekend, I think the Bears were getting whacked by the Packers."

And that left precious few fans to watch golf.

GMO fans have been waiting for Woods to return ever since he played Brown Deer seven years ago on a sponsor's exemption after announcing he was forgoing his final two years at Stanford to turn pro.

Sluman said a switch of dates will make it more enticing to lure Woods back to Milwaukee.

"I think there's a possibility," Sluman said. "I know him pretty well. I'm certainly not putting any words in his mouth, but I know he really appreciated the first spot here.

"And he's a really good young man and understands the favors that tournaments did early on when they gave him those spots. It wouldn't surprise me if he comes back here at some point. I'm not saying he is or isn't, don't quote me on that."

He's just saying it would be a lot easier for Woods to play Milwaukee if it's not the week before a major.

Sluman won the GMO in 1998 and shot a 23-under-par 261 total last year - one stroke shy of Loren Roberts' 72-hole record - to win by two shots over Tim Herron and Steve Lowery.

Sluman collected the biggest paycheck of his career, $558,000 of the $3.1 million purse.

This year's winner gets $630,000.

The course plays to a par 70 this season after the fourth hole was changed from a par 5 to a par 4 with the removal of a large oak tree that guarded the right side of the fairway off the tee.

Brown Deer's layout measures 6,759 yards, one of the shortest on the PGA Tour, putting a premium on iron play and putting while neutralizing the long hitters.

"You can only use four drivers a round here (on holes 1, 6, 10 and 18). I like that," Sluman said. "It's not just get up and gorilla golf it. Part of the beauty of it is you really get rewarded for thinking well and hitting good golf shots out here.

"The first time I played it I just kind of fell in love with it. It just seemed to fit every shot I liked to hit."

 

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