Sandy • When most of the professional golfers who will compete this week in the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship drive into the Willow Creek Country Club parking lot, they see the golf course’s lush, green fairways and the towering Wasatch Mountains off in the distance.
Then there’s 30-year-old Michael Putnam of Lakewood, Wash.
Web.com Tour Utah Championship
O At Willow Creek Country Club (Sandy)
When » Thursday through Sunday
Purse » $625,000
Winner’s take » $112,500
TV » The Golf Channel
2012 champion » Doug LaBelle III (not entered)
Utah competitors » Zac Blair, Clay Ogden, Derek Penman, Dusty Fielding, Joseph Summerhays, Mark Owen, Zach Johnson, Davis Garner, B.J. Staten
"I see straight dollar signs," he said, only half-joking.
And why not?
Putnam, who played collegiately at Pepperdine — "sun, beach and women," he says with smile, when asked how a high school star from Lakewood, Wash., found his way to Malibu, Calif. — is easily the most successful golfer in the history of the event. He won the whole thing here in 2010 and is the tournament’s all-time leading money winner ($174,651).
"It mostly brings back good memories," he said. "I drive into the parking lot knowing that I will have a chance to win this week. Just because I love the place. I play it well every year. Not exactly sure why."
In five appearances at Willow Creek, Putnam not only won in 2010 but has also tied for or placed second twice (2006, 2012). His worst finish is a tie for 28th in 2008. He has shot in the 60s in 13 of 20 rounds here, and has a 67.95 scoring average on the par-71 course.
Actually, Putnam plays well in a lot of places. He has already won twice on the tour this year, at the Mexico Championship in late May and then at the Mid-Atlantic Championship outside Washington, D.C., a week later. That means he arrives at Willow Creek looking for a "battlefield promotion." Golfers who win three tournaments in a single season on the Web.com Tour automatically move on to the much more lucrative PGA Tour.
"I’m still extremely motivated," he said, knowing that he’s already won enough money this year ($386,634) to guarantee a top-25 finish on the money list and the PGA Tour promotion that comes with it. "I am just trying to play the year out like I am 100th on the money list."
A lot of Putnams will be found at the tournament, which begins Thursday at 7 a.m. off both the No. 1 and No. 10 tees and will be televised daily by The Golf Channel. Putnam’s older brother, Joel, will be on his bag, as he has been the past four years.
Michael’s wife, Kristina, 2-year-old son Jantzen and 7-month-old daughter, Hallie, have made the trip from Washington. But that’s not all.
Putnam’s 25-year-old brother, Andrew, who graduated from Pepperdine in 2011, turned pro shortly after that and qualified for the Web.com Tour tour this season. He’s currently 27th on the money list, with $85,012 in earnings. Andrew Putnam will be making his first appearance at Willow Creek this week.
The brothers already have quite a sibling rivalry going on the course, but are traveling partners off it, and spend a lot of time together.
"Oh yeah, we obviously want to beat other, and there definitely is a rivalry, but at the same time we are also cheering for each other to play well," Andrew Putnam said. "The cool think about this season is that we have both been playing well."
Joel Putnam says Michael plays well at Willow Creek "because it reminds him of home."
Michael is proud of what Andrew has accomplished, but knows little brother is eager to make a name for himself in the ultra-competitive world of pro golf.
"A few weeks ago at a golf tournament, I had an 8-footer on the last hole," Michael Putnam said. "If I make it, I beat him for the week. If I miss it, we tie. He told me he was rooting for me to miss the putt, so we would tie. And I missed it. So he got a lucky tie."
Michael Putnam has obviously developed into a local favorite, but there are nine Utahns in the field, if you count B.J. Staten, who is actually from Texas but married a Utahn and lists Cottonwood Heights, Utah, as his hometown. The eight others are former BYU golfers Zac Blair and Clay Ogden, Saint George’s Dusty Fielding, Sandy’s Derek Penman, Draper’s Mark Owen, Farmington’s Joseph Summerhays and Zach J. Johnson, and Davis Garner of Washington Terrace.
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