Now that the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedExCup are in the history books for 2011, we move ahead to the Fall Series, starting out in Las Vegas and TPC Summerlin for the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Last year, Jonathan Byrd won with an unthinkable hole-in-one in a playoff for golf's first, "walk-off," win. Byrd is back this year to defend his title, along withe FedExCup and Tour Championship winner, Bill Haas.
Before everyone starts rolling the dice in Vegas, we caught up with TPC Summerlin PGA Director of Golf and Assistant General Manager Lee Smith for a little Q&A.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, Lee. First things first -- it's going to be pretty hard to top last year's finish where Jonathan Byrd made a hole-in-one to win a playoff, isn't it?
Smith: Absolutely. However, with Bill Haas in the field after just winning the FedExCup and Tour Championship along with many other Tour winners and established players, we look forward to having a great tournament. Also, the date of our event has been moved earlier by about three weeks which has allowed for more consistent and defined rough so the golf course is in great condition for a great finish as well.
PGA.com: Can you explain to our readers what it was like to watch your tournament end with an ace?
Smith: It's always exciting to have something happen at your Tour event that has never happened before in the history of the PGA Tour. A walk off hole-in-one in a playoff is obviously no different. We are pretty accustomed to firsts around here though with the first million-dollar purse back in the 80's, Tiger Woods first victory in 1996, first competitive action for the Pro-V1 golf ball with Bill Andrade winning in 2000 and then last year. We are hoping this year is no different, in a positive sense that is.
PGA.com: Talk a little about the field you have assembled this week. It seems like it gets better and better each year.
Smith: Again, 4-5 players from last week's Tour Championship are here along with a popular contingent of local players from UNLV and Las Vegas, that get the fans excited. Add to that the players that are hungry for a first victory or yearning to keep their card for next year, and a very good field is put together.
PGA.com: What's it like to have Justin Timberlake -- probably the king of cool these days -- so heavily associated with your event?
Smith: Justin is a good player in his own right, so having him attached and hosting the golf tournament is a great match. Sunday he was here and participated in our Junior Clinic which the youngsters were very excited for and he has put together a great group of celebrities to participate in the Wednesday Pro-Am as well. I think Justin has the opportunity to continue in making an even larger impact outside of the music and entertainment business with his involvement in this tournament and the Shriners Hospitals for Children moving forward.
PGA.com: Do you have one thing in particular that you most look forward to during tournament week? If so, what is it and why?
Smith: I think it is easily the fact that our golf course and Tour event will be center stage for the world to see and I think we sometimes lose sight of that during the play of the week. With the broadcast possibly to over 200 countries and 30 languages, our golf course, TPC Network, and PGA Tour continue to grow with exposure like that which is certainly a competitive advantage throughout the other 51 weeks of the year.