Greater Milwaukee Open
Greater Milwaukee Open
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Greater Milwaukee Open weathers schedule change

This weekend, the PGA Tour's elite players won't be at Brown Deer Park, the public course on which the Greater Milwaukee Open has been played since 1994.

Tiger Woods, David Duval and golf's other stars will be resting and preparing for next week's Open. Instead, the GMO will feature an eclectic field of mid-level tour stars, local favourites and loyal yearly visitors to Milwaukee.

"We have players who are very loyal to us," tournament director Dan Croak said.

Like the city in which it is played, the Greater Milwaukee Open is working-class and relatively unglamorous -- and the working-class, unglamorous golfers in its field like it that way.

Certain golfers on tour wouldn't miss Milwaukee. Mark Calcavecchia has played in the past 18 GMOs, while Loren Roberts -- who plays so well in the tournament, fellow pro Skip Kendall once called it "the Loren Roberts annuity" -- has been here each year since 1983.

Defending champion Jeff Sluman will return, but the galleries' sentimental favourite again likely will be Steve Stricker, a Madison, Wis., native who was the runner-up to Sluman last year and finished fifth at last month's U.S. Open.

Stricker's caddie will be his wife, Nicki. Last year, she was too busy to tote her husband's bag; she was giving birth to their first child.

Through schedule changes, venue changes and a yearly struggle to attract a topflight field, the event has survived and thrived. Croak said ticket sales are better than last year, and the purse is a record $2.3 million, with the winner getting $414,000.

This year, the event was bumped from its traditional Labour Day weekend slot to mid-July on the tour schedule, to follow the Western Open in suburban Chicago during the tour's summer sweep of the Midwest.

"This is a great time to have a golf tournament in Wisconsin," Croak said. "We were very pleased with the adjustment."

However, next week's event is the British Open, one of golf's four majors. Many pros like to take the week off, or travel to the British Isles early to combat jet-lag and work on their games.

The GMO doesn't see the scheduling move as a setback. Croak noted that the tournament's results now count in the Ryder Cup points standings, which determine the field for the biennial showdown of the world's top golfers. Previously, Ryder Cup teams already were chosen before the tournament was played.

"Our field is better this year than it was last year, and I think it's partly due to the fact the tournament is more important to golfers now," Croak said.

Several prominent golfers have played Brown Deer. Woods made his professional debut here in 1996, and John Daly and Vijay Singh both have played in Milwaukee recently.

The biggest name in the 1999 field is Tom Lehman, who is ranked 25th in the world but hasn't won in the United State since 1996. Only two players who have won on tour this year, Carlos Franco and Duffy Waldorf, are entered.

John Maginnes will play in the GMO a week after his caddie, Garland Dempsey, collapsed during the third round of the Western Open. Dempsey is still hospitalised, and tournament officials weren't sure who would carry Maginnes' bag.