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Sluman is the home town PGA favourite

The trick for Jeff Sluman is to remind himself that the PGA Championship is just like any of the other 57 majors he has played, and Oak Hill Country Club is just another golf course.

If Monday was any indication, that won't be easy.

The plan was to squeeze in nine holes before his 2 p.m. interview, but it took Sluman more than hour to get from the practice green to the range to the first tee. His caddie sat on a cooler on the tee, waving other players through, knowing this would happen.

Sluman grew up in Rochester.

He was in awe of Oak Hill the first time he set foot on the fabled Donald Ross course as an 11-year-old watching the 1968 U.S. Open won by Lee Trevino.

The club gave him playing privileges when he turned pro.

"I've played hundreds of times out here, and coming in to register, seeing all the members, that's an experience you don't have that often when you go to a major,'' Sluman said. "So, it's a special week for me. I'm just going to enjoy it.''

This is no time for a ceremonial stroll at Oak Hill.

Sluman is coming off his worst slump in years at one of the worst times.

He is 13th in the standings for the Presidents Cup team, a major goal at the start of the season. Ten players qualify after this week, and U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus is likely to take the next two players on the list as his two picks.

Sluman missed five straight cuts - starting with the U.S. Open and ending with the British Open - before tying for 12th in the Buick Open two weeks ago.

This also is the final major of the year, and opportunity starts to become rare at Sluman's age - a month short of 46.

"This is a very important tournament for me,'' Sluman said. "This is really the last time I'm going to play legitimately in front of everybody in my hometown. But I've got to get my work done, and I've got to do what I normally do when I go to a tournament.''

He doesn't normally get a standing ovation for walking onto the practice range, and another for showing up on the first tee.

He doesn't always hear so many people shout his name. Normal is not the young woman wanting an autograph for the guy who mows her lawn because "you're his favorite player.''

Under the circumstances, has he even allowed himself to imagine what it would be like to win a major championship in his back yard?

"Not in the least,'' Sluman said. "If you've got a chance going into Sunday, then your mind might wander a little bit, but you can't let it wander out there. If you do, you're going to be making bogey after bogey.

"It would be the greatest experience of my life if something like that happened, but I'm not really going to think about it too much.''

Sluman has other things to worry about - his game, for one thing.


 

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