ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The purse may be down, but the field certainly isn’t at the 56th annual New Mexico Open golf tournament, which begins today at Mescalero’s Inn of the Mountain Gods near Ruidoso.
In a sign of the times, the Open purse took a hit from $90,000 last year to $65,000 this year. First prize is down from about $13,000 to $9,000.
But the qualify field, featuring some of the top playing pros in the Southwest, is a full 156 with a waiting list. There are 136 pros and 20 amateurs.
“It’s just a been a little tougher getting the big sponsors this year,” says John Speary, executive director of the Sun Country Golf Association PGA. “Up until this year, it was doing great and growing every year. But the economic downturn has put a little damper on the growth.
“Hopefully, it will turn back around. We still want to have the largest purse of any state open in the west, if not the country.”
Defending champion Brian Kortan of Albuquerque is again in the field. Kortan has long been one of the area’s top players and played on the PGA Tour in 2005. He also played in the 2008 U.S. Open.
Other former champions include Dan Koesters of Las Cruces and Steve Haskins of El Paso. Haskins is the son of the late legendary UTEP basketball coach, Don Haskins.
Former University of New Mexico star Sean Murphy, who has been on the PGA Tour and is one of the biggest winners ever on the Nationwide Tour, is also playing.
“It’s a great field again,” Speary said. “You look at guys who have played in it the last three years — guys like Jeff Klauk and (2007 winner) Jaxon Brigman — and they are guys who are getting, at least a cup of coffee, on the PGA Tour. Klauk is playing really well.
“Many of these guys will eventually play on the Nationwide or PGA Tours.”
Brigman has played in PGA and Nationwide tour events this year while Klauk has made more than $1 million and has two top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2009.
The Open has a large contingency of players on the Adams Pro Golf Tour, which is a type of feeder circuit for the lager tours.
The 54-hole event concludes Friday and there is a cut to the low 50 and ties after Thursday’s second round.
New Mexico Open
Inn of the Mountain Gods (Ruidoso)
Tee times: 7:30 a.m. and noon (1 and 10 tees)