May 22, 2014 - By Bruce Tippets, Sports EditorSix former Saltwater Classic golf champions have bolstered the field for the 40th annual tournament Saturday through Monday at the Riverton Country Club.
The opening round begins Saturday morning.
Golfers conclude the tournament Monday afternoon with the final 18 holes.
The tournament started in 1974.
"I think that it's pretty special," Riverton County Club golf pro Steve Johnson said about the anniversary.
"It's tough to find events, especially in smaller towns, that have that long, and the tradition that we do."
Utah pro golfer Derek Fox is back to defend his title he won dramatically in 2013.
Fox holed out from 40 yards on on the first playoff hole last year to win the $10,000 top prize.
Scott Peterson also returns. He finished first in 2007
Peterson also is a winner on the Web.Com tour, which is the development circuit for the PGA tour.
"Scott is a phenomenal player out of Colorado," Johnson said.
Also in the field is Joseph Summerhays, who won his Saltwater Riverton in 2008.
"He comes from a great golfing family," Johnson said.
Four years ago, Dustin Mills was first on the leaderboard. Todd Tanner emerged in the spotlight by winning the 2011 title. They both are back.
Tanner now runs a junior golf clinic in Utah.
"He is a great ambassador for the game of golf with the kids," Johnson said.
Nick Travers, who didn't defend his title in 2012, is back this year.
Last year, the winner received $10,000 for the first time, up from $5,000.
"I honestly think that it will be the most compeitive field that we have ever had," Johnson said.
"There was a stretch where the person that won the Saltwater went to a PGA qualifying school and got his PGA tour card."
That started with Brian Kortan when he won it in 2001. Boyd Summerhays took home the title in 2002 and Matthew Zions in 2006. Each went on to the PGA tour.
"To a normal person that may not sound like a lot," Johnson said. "To get a PGA tour card is an unbelievable feat."
A couple of years ago, Saltwater officials ruled that an amateur player could win the overall title.
"The amateurs just can't take the money," Johnson said.
The top amateurs play from the same tees as the pro golfers.
"We are going to have an amateur win it one of these times with the quality of the field," Johnson said.
Riverton High School freshman Easton Paxton is near the top of the list in the amateur field.
Paxton recently won the U.S. Open local qualifying round at the Riverton Country Club, shooting a blistering 66.
"We have 14 amateurs that are zero (handicap) or better," Johnson said.
Paxton leads the group at plus 4.9.
"That means his average is a 67," Johnson said. "That is just amazing."
University of Wyoming golfer P.J. Thomas and Utah State University player Zach Waxler are are in the Saltwater. Both starred at RHS.
"We have not had the greatest growing conditions this spring because we haven't had a lot of sunshine," Johnson said.
Riverton country club superintendent Chris Thomas is in charge of the grounds.
"The golf course is so good," Johnson said. "This is the first event of the year for a lot of the pro golfers. They tell me that the greens will be the best ones they play on all year."
Tim Branch, 1975; Tim Marshall, 1976; Don Branca, 1977; Gene Torres, 1975; Tom Woodward, 1980; Bob Betley, 1981; Larry Webb, 1982; Steve Jones, 1983; Dave Lee, 1984; Kim Thompson, 1985; Bob Betley, 1986; Jim Blair, 1987; Mike Malaska, 1988; Bruce Brockban, 1989; Steve Schneiter, 1990; Milan Swilor, 1991; Shaun Haberstroh, 1992; Shaun Haberstrom, 1993; Kim Thompson, 1994; Milan Swilor, 1996; Steve Schneiter, 1997; Rick Gramer, 1998; Mike Sauer, 1999; Jim Blair, 2000; Brian Kortan, 2001; Steve Schneiter, 2004; Steve Schneiter, 2005; Matthew Zions, 2006; Scott Peterson and Joseph Summerhays, 2007; Jason Allen, 2008; Nic Larson, 2009; Dustin Mills, 2010; Todd Tanner, 2011; Nick Travers, 2012; Derek Fox, 2013.
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