Altitude doesn't seem to be a concern for some

RENO - Jack Nicklaus tormented enough players when he was on the PGA Tour. Now that he's not, it still hasn't stopped.

Before the Reno-Tahoe Open originated, the only PGA Tour event played at significant altitude was at Castle Pines Golf Club, a Jack Nicklaus designed course outside of Denver, which rests at over 6,000 feet above sea level.

Then came the RTO, which is played at Montreux Golf and Country Club, another Nicklaus designed beauty that's over 5,000 feet above sea level.

Now there's two events that are played at altitude. And like Castle Pines, Montreux has all the characteristics of a Nicklaus course. Elevation changes. Elevated tee boxes. And so on.

Former Georgia Tech star Bryce Mulder thinks he's figured out a way to combat the possible fluctuations of his golf ball due to the higher altitude.

"My caddy and I have worked out a pretty good system," said Mulder, who's competing as a professional for the first time this week. "We've come up with 10% (further distance), and then we're converting it to sea level numbers. But it's tough because of all the elevated tee boxes."

Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, has the luxury of preparing for the RTO the same way he does at Castle Pines, which hosts the The International presented by Qwest.

"I'm just getting used to the altitude here," said Leonard, who's played only two practice rounds at Montreux. "This golf course plays similar to the tournament we play in Castle Pines. We have a lot of elevation change there as well. So I think my experience there should help me."

Jean Van De Velde, the 2000 RTO runner up, echoes that. But there's more to it than that.

"I live at 1,500 feet in Geneva, Switzerland and I was born near the Pyrenees Mountains," said Van De Velde, who was also the 2000 British Open runner up. "So I don't really care about the altitude."

That's close to a 4,000 foot difference compared to Montreux, but Van Del Velde would know. He lost in a four-hole playoff to Scott Verplank in last year's RTO. And he was in the top 10 at The International during the final round before falling back.

Playoff loss to Verplank still pains Frenchman

"I can remember every shot about it (the playoff)," Van De Velde said. "It's not been easy to put away. I played solid, I just didn't make any putts."

Van De Velde, though, looks poised to make another run coming into this year's RTO.

"I'm like a diesel engine," Van De Velde explained. "It takes me a long time to warm up. Now I'm feeling good."

Ex- amateur signs endorsement deal with Nike

Mulder, who's been one of top amateur golfers in recent years signed an endorsement deal with Nike on Wednesday.

Terms were not disclosed but Nike has made a habit of signing the nation's rising golf stars. Most notably, Tiger Woods.

"I've agreed to go with Nike," said Mulder, who was a two-time NCAA champion at Georgia Tech. "I've been looking forward to it all season. From a performance standpoint, the Nike golf industry is something I wanted."

2000 PGA runner up posts best pro-am score

Bob May, who gained instant popularity after taking Woods to a playoff at last year's PGA Championship, shot a 4-under 68 during Wednesday's pro-am. May's score was a two shots better than seven other golfers who all shot 70s, including Peter Jacobsen, who's management company runs the RTO.

Speedy greens and wind are main topic of conversation

The greens at Montreux are fast. Some players think too fast. Others, like Leonard and last year's runner-up, Jean Van De Velde, don't think so.

"I like them when they're quick," said Van De Velde, who lost a four-hole playoff to Verplank last summer.

The wind is more concerning than the greens, however.

"Now it's the combination of the wind and the greens," Van De Velde said. "It's been windy since I got here. The wind is actually affecting the ball on the greens, which you don't get that often."


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