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The Age of Excellence: Climax for the Classic?

With the future of the AT&T Classic in limbo, Purtzer’s 2007 victory might be tournament’s finest

Posted: December 26, 2009 11:12 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Champions Tour golfer Tom Purtzer pumps his fist during the 2007 AT&T Classic at Valencia Country Club. Purtzer won the event that year and has expressed disappointment that it will not return in 2010.

 

The Champions Tour’s calendar is empty in mid-March 2010.

It wasn’t filled.

It’s not going to be filled — for 2010 at least.

For nine years, that spot was occupied by a tournament at Valencia Country Club.

The tournament may have achieved its peak in 2007 when Tom Purtzer outlasted Loren Roberts in a dramatic playoff.

In its final year, the tournament, which has been called the SBC and AT&T Classic, was won by Dan Forsman in a playoff.

Behind the scenes, city of Santa Clarita officials, the Champions Tour and even AT&T searched for a title sponsor to keep the
tournament alive.

There were some people involved in the process that, off the record, accused the city of not doing enough to find a new sponsor.

Officials from the city maintained that they tried.

They sought out local and national sponsors to no avail, finally blaming the downturn of the economy for an inability to find a sponsor.

In 2008, AT&T announced that it would end its sponsorship of the event, but said it would stay on as the title sponsor for the 2009 event in hopes that a new sponsor could be found.

That never happened.

In 2009, the Champions Tour allowed until it finalized its 2010 schedule in October before determining whether an event would return to Valencia Country Club.

Yet it was evident after the 2009 AT&T Champions Classic in March that an event would not return.

Golfers and representatives from Valencia Country Club were talking about the event in past tense.

Purtzer, who became a symbol of the professional golf tournaments at VCC, was a staunch advocate of bringing the Champions Tour back to Valencia.

He finished in the top 10 at VCC seven times in eight tries, including a 2003 victory.

Purtzer said on many occasions that he and the other golfers on the Champions Tour were fond of VCC.

On March 15 after the final round of the 2009 AT&T Champions Classic, he said: “I’ve made a lot of friendships here and it’s sad that it doesn’t look like we will be coming back. It’s such a great event.”

But he offered a solution.

“When so many people are losing their jobs, losing their houses, losing you-name-it ... if we’re going to keep playing tournaments, we’re going to have to take a hit too,” Purtzer said. “And whether we’re playing for a million or whether we’re playing for X amount of dollars, if there’s some way we could play here for a million or whatever the number is, I think we as a unit need to do that.

“There’s got to be something we can do to keep the event here in Santa Clarita instead of just saying, ‘Oh well.’”
Nothing ever happened.

The cost of sponsorship was in the $2 to $3 million neighborhood — a number no potential sponsor was willing to come up with.

But is a Champions Tour event in the Santa Clarita Valley completely dead?

“I know the City Council, city manager and city as a whole very much want the tournament to come back,” said Jason Crawford, economic development manager for the city of Santa Clarita. “Since that’s not going to happen (in 2010), we’re looking to see if we can bring it back in 2011 or beyond. The holdup is finding a business to sponsor the tournament at that amount of money.”

As it proved in 2009, it was too difficult.

If the event is a thing of the past, it did make a huge impact in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Economically, it brought in $5 to $7 million into the valley annually.

Huge stars turned out for the pro-ams — names like Alice Cooper, Joe Pesci, George Lopez, Cal Ripken Jr., Jerry Rice and more.
Huge golf stars played — names like Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino.

And it had its share of excitement.

In 2007, Purtzer and Roberts tied after 54 holes.

On the third playoff hole, Roberts tapped in for par, putting the pressure on Purtzer.

Purtzer’s par putt was from 15 feet out.

He drilled it, then pumped his fists.

On the fourth playoff hole, Purtzer’s ball rested 17 feet from the cup on the 18th green.

Under a hushed silence, Purtzer putted.

As the ball rolled toward the hole, the hush grew into nervous moans.

The ball fell in for a birdie and the pressure was now on Roberts.

“The Boss of the Moss” is Roberts’ nickname for his touch on the greens.

That March 18, Roberts’ most meaningful putt stayed left of the hole, giving Purtzer his second victory at VCC.

 

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