Former MCHS golfer Jay McLuen makes a stop in Athens for Nationwide tourney
Jay McLuen enjoyed a quasi-reunion last Thursday when he stepped to the first tee box at the Stadion Classic in Athens.
Playing just a few miles from where he grew up, the 1998 Madison County High School graduate, who’s now a professional golfer, saw plenty of familiar faces in the crowd as he got set to rip his first drive down the fairway.
“There were probably about 40 people on the first tee,” said the 29-year-old McLuen, who spent his formative years in Colbert.
In front of his old friends, McLuen shot two over par (73-71) in his first Nationwide Tour tournament of the year, missing the cut by one stroke. The Nationwide Tour is one step below the PGA Tour.
Had a few more putts fallen, McLuen would have played into the weekend.
“Tee to green, I played really well,” said McLuen, who carded five birdies over the course of two days. “I just didn’t make any putts.”
Specifically, McLuen pointed to his three three-putts during round one and some missed chances on the greens during the second round.
“I had plenty of opportunities, I just didn’t get it to the hole fast enough,” said McLuen, who recently switched to a belly putter.
McLuen, who collected 17 victories as a mini-tour professional, had qualified for three Nationwide events over the past couple of years prior to his start in Athens last week.
But this Nationwide tournament was different, with the week serving as a homecoming of sorts for McLuen.
“I was shaking hands and kissing babies all day Wednesday and Thursday,” McLuen said.
Fifteen to 20 people followed McLuen and his group on Thursday as he worked his way through round one. He said he enjoyed having the supportive gallery.
“Yeah, I always like having some guys there,” McLuen said. “It’s kind of lonely out there when there’s nobody watching you.”
McLuen said the UGA course, which hosted its first Nationwide event, was in great shape.
“The golf course was awesome … I think it’s one of the top three or four courses we’ll play all year,” McLuen said.
McLuen hopes to play in the Nationwide Tour’s next stop, the May 13-16 BMW Charity Pro-Am, which is played in multiple locations in North Carolina and South Carolina. He is currently on the alternate list.
McLuen and his contemporaries on the Nationwide Tour are all vying for PGA tour status.
The top 25 players on the money list at year’s end earn their PGA tour card.
The top 60 earn a spot in the tour championship tournament, which could lead to big-time rewards if a golfer plays well.
“If you play well in the tour championship, you can get your PGA tour card right there,” McLuen said.
For McLuen, the key now is making the most of his upcoming Nationwide events and earning more starts on the tour.
“It all just kind of depends on how I play these next five or six events,” he said. “If I can get in to make a cut these next five or six events, then I can get back in the reshuffle and my status will increase.”
As for this past week in Athens, McLuen counts the experience as a good one — one he wishes lasted a little bit longer for him and the hometown fans.
“I had a good time,” he said. “I wish I could have been there on the weekend, because I know I had a bunch more people wanting tickets.”