FALMOUTH — Golfers on the Korn Ferry Tour are learning that Maine isn’t exactly the most convenient stop on their schedule.
“It’s not easy to get all the way here,” said Nicolas Echavarria, a 27-year-old Colombian. “We don’t play any other tournament in the northeast part of the United States. I think the (northernmost) tournament we play after this one is Chicago.”
It’s a trip, however, that Echavarria was happy to make.
“Overall, this place is awesome. We’re very lucky to have a tournament here,” he said. “It’s worth the travel to get here. It’s a very pretty place.”
The professionals on the Korn Ferry Tour, the feeder circuit for the PGA Tour, are getting their second look at Falmouth Country Club with the return of the Live and Work in Maine Open. While the tournament made its debut at the course last year, players this time around have a better idea of what it will look like.
“I remember there being some pretty decent crowds out here on the weekend last year. They got behind the event, which is really nice,” said Erik Barnes, a 34-year-old pro out of Marion, Indiana. “You feel like you’re playing for somebody other than just the other guys in your group and your caddy, so I hope people get out and watch this week. It’s a fun tournament.”
Players will be competing for a $750,000 purse, with $135,000 going to the winner. That’s an increase from $600,000 and $108,000 last season, and that’s not the only thing that should climb. After the event drew 6,350 fans over four days last year, tournament director Brian Corcoran said he’s expecting more.
“I’ll be highly disappointed if we don’t have 10,000-plus over the week,” said Corcoran, the CEO of Shamrock Sports. “We want to keep this momentum going.”
The fans turning out will see players trying to punch their tickets to the PGA Tour next season, as well as some who already have. Carl Yuan, Brandon Matthews and Barnes have clinched tour cards, with Barnes earning his two weeks ago in Wichita, Kansas.
“Honestly, it should make me feel like I’ve got nothing to lose, because really, I don’t,” said Barnes, who tied for 25th last year in Falmouth at 6 under. “But it’s still kind of the same sense of urgency every week. I just feel like I need to keep grinding out every shot, every putt.”
The good news for Barnes earning his PGA Tour card was mixed with the bad news of missing the cut at last week’s U.S. Open by one shot, despite holing an approach shot from 78 yards for eagle on the par-4 17th hole in the first round.
“There was a large period of disappointment,” he said. “I finished up on Friday and I was pretty upset until the next morning, when I could really kind of calm down and grasp the fact that … there were a lot of positives that came from it.”
Fans will also get to see the two biggest amateur names in the state. Camden’s Cole Anderson, a 21-year-old rising junior at Florida State, will play via sponsor’s exemption and compete in his first tournament in his home state since the 2020 Maine Amateur.
“I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to be back in my home state. It’s been a while. … It’s probably about 10 months since I’ve been home,” he said. “It’s good to be back. I’m enjoying the cool weather. I’m not sweating for once. I’ve spent 10 months just sweating.”
Anderson, an aspiring pro, said he’s been learning about the professional golf life from the players who live it. To an extent.
“I’ve been learning a lot already, just picking brains when I can,” Anderson said. “You want to ask guys as much as you can without impeding their process. At the end of the day, they’re out here playing for a check. The last thing they need is playing 21 questions with a college kid.”
Anderson will be joined in the field by Caleb Manuel, who is coming off of his own U.S. Open experience. Manuel, a rising junior at the University of Connecticut, played in the Live and Work in Maine Open last year and missed the cut, but said he feels more prepared this time.
“I’m definitely a lot more relaxed,” he said. “Last year it was kind of a rush, and I was just getting ready to get going. This year it’s more of setting goals and more expectations for myself.”
He’s more relaxed now, but Manuel said he expects the butterflies to return when he tees it up with future PGA Tour pros.
“I’m not nervous yet, but I’ll be nervous on the first tee,” he said. “Every tournament I play in, college or amateur, I try to win, contend. I would say that’s the goal this week.”
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