Golf

Daly to Langer: MGRC setting up as entertaining event

John Daly, left, talks with his caddie on the 17th green during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., on March 16.
John Daly, left, talks with his caddie on the 17th green during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., on March 16. Associated Press

The field for the 2017 Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic is setting up to be one of the tournament’s best.

Of the top 35 players on the Charles Schwab Cup Money List, 34 have committed to compete in the PGA Tour Champions event at Fallen Oak, March 31-April 2.

“I say every year that the field only gets stronger, and it does. It’s amazing,” MGRC Tournament Director Steve Nieman said. “If you can add a two-time Masters champion in Jose Maria Olazabal, your field only gets stronger. When you add John Daly, you have an appeal that may draw people that wouldn’t normally be interested to come out to the tournament. John does such a great job with his fans.”

The MGRC is entering its eighth year and Fred Couples is the only former champion who won’t be competing this year. He had a prior commitment with some of his sponsors.

The latest star to join the list of participants is Steve Stricker, who will serve as captain of the U.S. Team at 2017 Presidents Cup. Stricker, a 12-time champion on the PGA Tour, is making his first appearance at the MGRC and it will be just his second event on the PGA Tour Champions.

Defending champion Miguel Angel-Jimenez, David Toms and Bernhard Langer are among the other big names set to compete.

College coaches join in

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen of Mississippi State will both get in on the fun Thursday during the C Spire Pro-Am, also at Fallen Oak. Tee times have not yet been set for the two men, but gates will open at 7 a.m.

This marks the third consecutive year both Mullen and Freeze have committed to play in the pro-am.

Though the coaches are sure to draw their fair share of fans on the course, it’s doubtful anyone will have a larger gallery than Daly, who is in his first full season on the PGA Tour Champions.

The Arkansas native has been impressive at times since becoming eligible for the tour when he turned 50 on April 28, 2016. He shot an opening-round 65 at the Mitsbushi Electric Championship at Hualalai on Jan. 19.

Daly has always been one of the strongest drivers on the PGA Tour and that’s translated well to the PGA Tour Champions, where he is averaging 301.4 yards to rank fourth among competitors.

He is a colorful character in more ways than one, often sporting the gaudiest getup on the course.

Nieman believes Daly will build a warm relationship with fans throughout the weekend.

“We are encouraged not only by the tour but by the players, to allow fans to have access,” Nieman said. “That’s what makes John’s fan base so fun. He has kind of a different fan base compared to most. Unless John says to me he needs a police officer, I won’t give him one. I don’t think he’ll ever ask for that. He’d say, ‘What are they going to do?’ John can take care of John. If you listen to interviews with Daly, he’ll always talk about how much he appreciates his fans.

“That’s a guy that can connect with people.”

Hitting the course

Competition begins Tuesday in the MGRC qualifying tournament at Diamondhead Country Club with competitors looking to earn about five spots in the field.

The spectators can watch the pros compete along with the amateurs, such as Freeze and Mullen, during the C Spire Pro-Am on Thursday at Fallen Oak.

The first round of competition begins Friday with players teeing off about 10 a.m. Gates will open at 9 a.m.

Competition will start about 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday’s round will feature Chevron Family Day with the first 200 kids receiving a complimentary book.

Sunday will be Military Appreciation Day.

“We’ll have a beautiful ceremony incorporated into the trophy ceremony,” Nieman said. “It’s something that puts it all into perspective.”

Military, both active and retired, will be allowed into the tournament free all three days. Children 16 and under are also free when accompanied by a ticketed adult. Tickets are available for $15 a day for Thursday through Sunday and there is a 4-pack for $50, which includes four tickets that are good for any one day.

Other ticket packages are available at 2017mgrc.com.

Patrick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Patrick_Magee

MGRC schedule

Tuesday, March 28

PGA Tour Champions Qualifying Tournament at Diamondhead Country Club (Pine Course)

Thursday, March 30

C Spire Pro-Am at Fallen Oak (Tee times begin at 7 a.m.)

Friday, March 31

MGRC first round (Gates open at 9 a.m., tee times begin at 10 a.m.)

Saturday, April 1

Chevron Family Day (First 200 kids get complimentary book)

MGRC second round (Gates open at 8 a.m., tee times begin at 9 a.m.)

Sunday, April 2

Military Appreciation Day

MGRC final round (Gates open at 8 a.m., tee times begin at 9 a.m.)

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