NAPA – Andy McDowell said one of the “highlights” of his job as executive director of the Fortinet Championship, a PGA Tour event at Napa’s Silverado Resort and Spa, is contacting those players who have been awarded sponsor exemptions.
This year’s tournament, a FedExCup Fall event, the Fortinet Championship begins with first-round play on Thursday on the Silverado North Course, has six golfers in the field who are playing on sponsor exemptions.
One of those is Chase Sienkiewicz, a 2019 graduate of Jesuit High School-Carmichael who got his start in junior golf with First Tee – Greater Sacramento.
“He was so excited. So appreciative. A great young man who is so excited to be a part of this,” McDowell said.
Indeed, it’s a very exciting week for Sienkiewicz, a former University of Arizona star, who is making his PGA Tour debut. There are 156 players in the field at the Fortinet Championship, which will be televised by Golf Channel and has an $8.4 million purse. The tournament continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the North Course set up as a par-72, 7,166-yard layout.
“He had a great collegiate career and to be able to have his first event close to home is pretty special,” said McDowell.
Sienkiewicz got to Silverado late Tuesday morning, as he was traveling from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has been playing in PGA Tour Canada events since mid-June.
“I’m very comfortable out here. I’ve probably played the course about 12 times in my life, but obviously the atmosphere is way different. Just to see the guys that I idolize is pretty cool,” said Sienkiewicz.
“Just excited to get going.”
There are superstars every which way you look, including Max Homa, Justin Thomas, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar.
Homa is the tournament’s two-time defending champion, and along with Thomas, a 15-time winner on Tour, are on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Johnson, the Ryder Cup captain, and Cink, a vice-captain, are also in the field. The Ryder Cup is Sept. 29-Oct. 1, at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, in Rome.
The winner of the Fortinet Championship will receive $1,512,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points.
The 2023 Fortinet Championship is the first event of the FedExCup Fall, a group of seven tournaments played after the Tour Championship that finalizes eligibility for the 2024 PGA Tour season, the Tour announced. Nos. 1-50 in the FedExCup standings through the Tour Championship are locked in their positions while Nos. 51 and beyond carry their FedExCup points over, the Tour said. Nos. 51-60 through the FedExCup Fall will qualify for two signature events in 2024: AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and The Genesis Invitational.
“I’m just so excited to be out here this week. The opportunity is a blessing,” said Sienkiewicz.
It’s a big week for Sacramento-area golf, as three other players with ties to the Capital city are in the field:
Cameron Champ, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, who won the Safeway Open at Silverado in 2019; Austin Smotherman and Nick Watney.
“We know California, especially Northern California, is known for churning out some great golfers,” McDowell pointed out. “I think that’s a testament to the region.”
Also here this week:
Sahith Theegala, Andrew Putnam, Eric Cole, Brendon Todd, Cam Davis, Mackenzie Hughes, Nick Hardy, Taylor Montgomery, Stephan Jaeger, Beau Hossler, Sam Ryder, J.J. Spaun, Sam Stevens, Mark Hubbard, Matt NeSmith, Akshay Bhatia, Nico Echavarria.
Sienkiewicz has familiarity and knowledge of Silverado’s North Course – known for tight fairways, rough, and very difficult greens that present a key test with slope and speed – due to having played the course over the years. This includes Troon Saguaro Amateur Series events.
“I think the biggest thing is just the course layout. Ultimately, I know the course. I know where to hit. I’ve played it a lot. I’ve played great rounds out here. And ultimately, I know how to score,” said Sienkiewicz. “I’d say the biggest thing is just getting the speed down on these greens.”
Sienkiewicz said the week presents a different atmosphere for him, with different nerves for him in play and doing all he can to manage stress.
“Ultimately, I’m excited. I’m comfortable in Northern California, very close to Sacramento. I’m excited to see the crowds out here in terms of rooting for the Sacramento natives,” he said.
“Just having tap-in pars are great. So, I think just getting on a roll, getting comfortable early, and then hopefully making a charge,” he said.
“I think acting like a professional is the big key out here. And just understanding that not wasting energy, whether it’s bad shots, or even good shots out there, is what these guys do best. And I think it’s learning different things, whether it’s watching them on the short game, watching them hit different chips, watching them hit different shots on the range. Just watching them prepare is a big thing.
“I’ve already noticed there’s just a different feel out here, compared to Canada. Everyone’s moving slowly, everyone’s doing their thing, everyone has their head down and figuring it out. And ultimately, that’s the game. And so, I’m just very excited to be out here. Very fun to watch the best players in the world be out here with me. And on a track that I know.”
Sienkiewicz starred at Arizona.
This past year, as a senior, he was named All-Pac-12 Second Team and PING All-West Region. He had four Top-10 finishes.
He graduated from the Eller College of Management with a degree in business marketing.
Based on finishing the 2022-23 collegiate season in the top 20 of the PGA Tour University rankings, Sienkiewicz earned fully exempt membership on PGA Tour Canada for 2023 and also an exemption to the Second Stage of 2023 PGA Tour Q-School presented by Korn Ferry, along with conditional status through the Latin America Swing of the 2024 PGA Tour Americas season, it was announced in a report at www.pgatour.com in May.
“Ultimately, I just want to play great. I’m here to win,” he said. “There’s more people out here, good players. And ultimately, I know I’m a good player as well. And so just play my game and just be ready to take on a challenge of playing on this stage. I’m very excited. It’s just a blessing to be out here. And just to learn as much as I can and compete with the best.”
Sienkiewicz made six cuts in 10 events at PGA Tour Canada. He had two top-10 finishes.
He tied for eighth at Royal Beach Victoria Open presented by Times Colonist.
He tied for fifth at the ATB Classic.
Watney, who is from Sacramento, joined the PGA Tour in 2005 and has five Tour wins. He is making his 476th career start this week. He has six runner-up, 22 top-5 and 56 top-10 finishes during his career.
“It’s very special to be back in Northern California. I love it here. It’s kind of like I don’t know if maybe my golf has come full circle. I played here in the Johnny Miller Junior Classic and then in a high school match. So, it’s neat to be to play in a Tour event at the same place,” said Watney.
“I’m happy to be here. I’ve been working hard and I’m definitely excited to be playing Silverado. I’m going to give it my best shot. It’s a special place and it’s great to be back.”
Looking on from the grandstands on No. 18 when Austin Smotherman completed the pro-am Wednesday was his mom, Marla Smotherman and his grandfather, Bill Acquistapace.
Austin Smotherman marveled at the weather and course conditions.
“Beautiful week. Pro-am was good. Course is in great shape. It doesn’t hurt being back home,” he said.
Austin joined the Tour in 2022. He is making his 56th career start this week.
He and his wife, Jessica, have a 6-month old baby daughter, Adeline.
“We’re kind of taking it low key, at least off the course. We’re staying nearby at a house and keeping all the excitement for on-course,” he said.
It’s a big week for Smotherman – with fans from the Sacramento area following him and working hard to get the fall off to a good start.
“This week, to play well in front of everybody, maybe a little added pressure that really I only put on myself. But the whole entire fall is going to be so important. It’s taking that same mentality every single week of what we’re playing for and understanding that this sets us up big time for next year. Just like any Tour event, you want to come in prepared, ready to win.”
The Fortinet Championship on Wednesday announced that it has named the Cameron Champ Foundation as the recipient of a $30,000 award from the 2023 PGA Tour Charity Challenge.
The tournament finished fifth in this year’s challenge, a fantasy-style competition that benefits local charities around the country, the Tour reported in a press release.
“Founded by … Cameron Champ, the Cameron Champ Foundation strives to unlock the potential in and transform the lives of youth from underserved and underrepresented communities. The award will help support the foundation’s initiatives, which include junior golf programs in the Sacramento area, college scholarships, STEM programs at local schools, and the Mack Champ Invitational, an annual tournament in Houston for the best junior golfers from diverse backgrounds,” the press release said.
“The Fortinet Championship believes in giving back and supporting a breadth of organizations geared towards improving the lives of those in our community,” tournament director Andy McDowell said. “Cameron’s foundation is helping to grow the game of golf while simultaneously impacting change in Northern California and beyond, and we’re honored to help further his cause.”
According to a press release, during the 2022-23 PGA Tour season, as part of the PGA Tour Charity Challenge, host organizations across the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour Champions had the opportunity to select a local charitable beneficiary with specific programs and services that address diversity, equity and inclusion in underserved or underrepresented communities.
Champ joined the PGA Tour in 2019 and has 11 top-10 finishes. This week, he is making his 122nd career start.
There are two pre-qualifiers for the Fortinet Championship, Sept. 6 at Yolo Fliers Club in Woodland and Sept. 7 at Rancho Solano Golf Course in Fairfield.
The Monday qualifier was Sept. 11 at Yolo Fliers Club. Only four players qualified.
Among those players with Sacramento-area ties who did not qualify:
* Peter Lansburgh, tie for 17th, 3-under-par 69.
* Sam Harned, tie for 17th, 3-under-par 69.
* Aaron Beverly, tie for 29th, 2-under-par 70.
* Jaden Dumdumaya, tie for 58th, 2-over-par 74.
First- and second-round starting times, for Thursday and Friday, are from 6:55 a.m. to 2:17 p.m.
To purchase tickets, or for more information, go to fortinetchampionship.com.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.
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