Tournament gets underway Thursday at San Juan Country Club
FARMINGTON — The San Juan Open returns this week to the San Juan Country Club for the 53rd installment of the professional golf tournament.
This year's SJO features 59 professional entrants, many of them familiar and regular fixtures at the tournament, to take on the par-71 course that measures 6,750 yards from the back tees.
Jim Knous torched the course last year, shooting a 23-under 261 last year to win his second straight SJO by six strokes. Knous won't be back to defend his title this year. He is currently a member of the Web.com Tour and will be playing at the Lincoln Land Charity Championship this weekend in Springfield, Ill.
The winning score this year may not be as low as Knous' winning number last year, thanks to a forecast of high temperatures and steady winds drying out the course and creating fast conditions for players.
San Juan Country Club general manager David Crafton said the club will try to find a balance between making the course a challenge for the players and maintaining the integrity of the course.
"(The greens) will probably dry out because of the temperatures and expected winds, but we will err on the side of keeping the greens healthy for the sake of the membership while being aware that we're running a major tournament for the area," Crafton said. "We're going to put on as good of a show as we can, but we'll err on the side of caution and take care of the golf course in the long run."
The forecast for Thursday through Sunday is calling for temperatures in the middle to high 90s with winds ranging from 15-25 mph.
Several players with past success at the SJO will be in the field this week. Nine of the top 11 finishers from 2016 will be back, with Knous and Ryan Dillon, who placed third last year, being the two not returning.
Samuel Saunders, last year's runner-up, along with Andy Connell and Nick Mason, who finished tied for fourth last year, are back to challenge for the championship.
Also back in the field are past champions Derek Tolan — who won the tourney in 2009 with a 24-under 260, the second lowest score in SJO history — and Ryan Hogue, who won in 2005 and 2007.
Jere Pelletier enters the tourney coming off a win at the Navajo Trails Open last weekend at the Hillcrest Golf Club in Durango, Colo., edging Western New Mexico grad Callum Hill — who is also in the field this week — on the third hole of a playoff.
Part of what keeps bringing so many players back to the SJO are the events aside from the actual tournament the SJCC holds.
This year will feature a three-club tournament following the players' practice round Wednesday. The tournament will pair one pro golfer with one amateur by blind draw. Each team will play nine holes using three clubs and a putter.
"It's just a fun event after the practice round. It's gained a lot of traction and is just a lot of fun," Crafton said.
The first round of the SJO will begin Thursday morning. Tee times and pairings can be found at sanjuanopen.org.
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.