Pros set to conquer Oakmont

GLENDALE — The way John Milligan sees it, being the host professional competing in the Southern California PGA Section Championship can be a double-edged sword.

There are two schools of thought according to Milligan, the head professional at Oakmont Country Club, which will host the event today through Wednesday.

"It can work both ways," said Milligan, who will make his third appearance in the tournament and will tee off at 8:20 a.m. "First off, as the host, you know the course the best.

"It can also be a detriment in that you are expected to do better because you are the host. It's a great deal and a pretty big section. I'll take pride in representing the section, the club and myself. You want to make your members proud."

Milligan and Oakmont assistant professional Donny Lee will be among the field of 149 in the three-day tournament, which will feature 54 holes of stroke-play. The field, which will consist of PGA golf professionals from across Central and Southern California, will be cut to 60 and ties after 36 holes.

The top 11 will qualify for the 2011 PGA Professional National Championship, which will be held June 26-29 at Hershey Country Club in Hershey, Pa. The champion from the section tournament will receive one exemption to the 2011 Bob Hope Classic in January and the champion and runner-up earn exemptions to the 2010 Soboba Classic Nationwide Tour event in September. The top 30 finishers will receive exemptions into the 2010 California State Open, which will be played in November.

Ron Skayhan of Hillcrest Country Club captured the Southern California championship last season at Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside. The tournament, which began in 1924, hasn't had a participant repeat since Jeff Freeman accomplished the feat in 1998 and 1999.

Oakmont, which underwent major renovations in 2009, has hosted some top events throughout its illustrious history.

Oakmont hosted the LPGA Valley of the Stars Tournament Tour in 1999 that saw Catrin Nilsmark top favorite Annika Sorenstam on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. The club has also hosted the Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur Championship five times, in addition to being the site of the Pacific-10 Conference Men's Golf Championship in 2003.

In 2008, it co-hosted the 97th rendition of the California Amateur Championship with Lakeside Golf Club in Toluca Lake. The last big event came in May, when the course hosted an 18-hole local qualifying round for the United States Open Championship in Pebble Beach.

Gerald Wong, the Director of Tournaments for the Southern California PGA, said the organization selected Oakmont to host the event last August.

"You know Oakmont Country Club to be one of the classic courses in Southern California," Wong said. "It's rich in tradition and it's a privilege to have one of the bigger events to be played there.

"With all of the renovations to the bunkers and fairways, it's going to be a difficult course to play. The back nine will be very tough."

Oakmont General Manager Michael Hyler said the state's top golfers will be eager to attack the course.

"You will have a full field of pros out here and it's going to be a tough course," said Hyler, who added the tournament will be open to the public. "The members are excited about the tournament.

"They can watch the pros play the course the way the rest of us would like to play it."

The first group will tee off at 7 a.m. today. Lee will tee off at 8:10.

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