Chris Riley Comes Up Aces at Reno-Tahoe Open

By Jeffrey Weidel, Contributor

RENO, NV -- There are still some problems that need fixing, yet it appears the Reno-Tahoe Open will, at least temporarily, be taken off the endangered list by the PGA.

A regular stop on the Tour since 1999, heading into this year's August tournament there was talk it would not appear on next year's schedule. Although no big sponsor stepped forward as a savior, financial backing from the surrounding community apparently made the difference.

Part of the problem with the Reno-Tahoe Open is competing directly against the NEC Invitational, which has been held the same week and robs the tournament of big-name players. The top 40 players compete at the NEC, where a huge purse is provided.

That leaves Reno-Tahoe with less exposure. Only the Golf Channel provides coverage. Held at the scenic Montreux Golf & Country Club, the tournament had a $3 million purse this August.

Still, this is not a tournament that players dread attending. Besides a beautiful Jack Nicklaus-designed course, which is located in the high desert with towering pine trees and 10,000-foot Mt. Shasta looming in the background, the lure of gambling is a nice recruiting tool as well.

"When you think of Nevada, you don't think about a place like this," Chris Riley said. "But it's one of the most beautiful places we play. The Vegas stop, the Reno stop, the players enjoy it. It (gambling) gives us something to do instead of just going back to our hotel rooms."

There are certainly bigger gamblers around than Riley, who won this year's Reno-Tahoe Open, beating Jonathan Kaye in a playoff, good for a $540,000 winner's check. He was at the tables one final evening after the victory, but was hardly in a gambling frenzy.

"I was playing $5 hands of blackjack and I lost $300," Riley said. "I was pissed. I hate losing."

And seeing this tournament not appear on the 2003 schedule would be a shame, according to Riley. "We all love this tournament, it would be a really bad it we had to lose it," Riley said.

Rookie Race

Two ladies from opposite coasts have been running a close one-two all season for the LPGA Rookie of the Year award. Heading into September, Beth Bauer leads Natalie Gulbis 603-601 with the season winding down.

A Sacramento native who is just 19, Gulbis was a standout throughout her junior career before playing one season of college golf a year ago at Arizona. She had the lead until recently when Bauer slipped past her in the Rolex points race.

Unlike Gulbis, who earned her tour card at Qualifying School, Bauer finished among the top three on the Futures Tour in 2001 to earn exempt status. This season, the 22-year-old Bauer, who lives in Tampa, has matched Gulbis with four top-10 finishes. Bauer is higher on the money list at 23rd ($335,022). Gulbis is 32nd with $240,133.

There is a definite rivalry between the pair, who are two of the fresh, young faces the tour is hoping to market. Yet the rivalry remains a friendly one.

"I think Natalie and I have really pushed each other to play our best this year," Bauer said. "I think we tend to look at each other out of the corner of our eye as we are competitors, but we are also really good friends, too."

Gulbis agrees. "I hope that we all continue playing well and that it will all just play out itself in the end," she said. "I am always rooting for Beth to play well, like when she was in second place at Giant Eagle, I was totally cheering for her, despite the rookie points. We are good friends and play practice rounds together all the time and have also been paired together several times this year."

Quite the Finish

At the 78th annual California State Fair Amateur Championship, J.J. Jakovac of Napa put on a strong finish to win this year's 54-hole event. Jakovac birdied the last four holes and shot a 7-under par 65 to overtake Matt Bettencourt for the three-stroke victory.

After shooting a 73 in the opening round at the Alister MacKenzie Course in Haggin Oaks, Bettencourt shot a course-record 63 in the second round at Arcade Creek. Despite shooting a final round 68, he could not match the fast finish of Jakovac and had to settle for second place.

It was sweet revenge for Jakovac, a 20-year-old from Chico State who was the Division II champion this season. Bettencourt had defeated him three times before in head-to-head duels.

Jakovac joins an impressive list of former champions, which includes Ken Venturi, Kevin Sutherland, Al Geiberger and George Archer.

Laughter from the Lakes

Genoa Lakes in Nevada has come up with quite the unique idea. The golf club, located near Lake Tahoe, will be hosting the Laughter from the Lakes tournament Sept. 29, which features 36 stand-up comics playing 18 par-3 holes with foursomes of amateurs.

Among the comics will be Adam Sandler, Louie Anderson, Henry Cho, Pauly Shore, Wil and Deb Durst, Tom Dreesen, Wil Shriner, The Jokeman, Jackie Flynn and Rip Taylor.

Following the golf tournament, 18 of the comics will perform at the South Shore Room at Harrah's Lake Tahoe. All proceeds from the event go to the Make A Wish Foundation of Northern Nevada.

The idea was formulated between Tahoe comic Howie Nave and Phil Weidinger, who owns a public relations firm in the area. The two were having drinks at the time.

"We've all heard of ideas written on cocktail napkins," Nave said. "Well, we just didn't use the napkin. I wanted to get comedians involved with a tournament and Phil was looking for a memorable format."

For more information on the tournament, call (775) 588-2412.

Just for Kids

The 13th annual Friends For Kids Charity Classic was another success this year at Granite Bay Country Club near Sacramento. Co-hosts Scott McCarron of the PGA and former Sacramento King Jon Barry made sure of that.

McCarron managed to recruit around two dozen PGA pros for the event, held the Monday after the nearby NEC Invitational and Reno-Tahoe Open tournaments. Reno-Tahoe winner Chris Riley was there, along with Blaine McCallister, Craig Stadler, Brent Geiberger, Grant Waite, Franklin Langham, plus Sacramento pros Kevin and David Sutherland of Sacramento.

Barry, a fine golfer, brought along his former teammate and friend, Scot Pollard, who does not take the game too seriously.

"I have fun being out here with Jon, we play off each other like peanut butter and jelly," Pollard said.

Jeffrey Weidel is a staff writer in Northern California.

Jeffrey WeidelJeffrey Weidel, Contributor

Jeffrey Weidel has been working in the Sacramento area as a sportswriter since 1981. An avid golfer with a 10.6 index, he is currently the Assistant Sports Editor of The Press-Tribune, a three-day a week paper in Roseville.

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