By TOM LaMARRE
With the 44th Ryder Cup in the rear-view mirror, the PGA Tour will continue with its inaugural Fall Series after Sahith Theegala of Chino Hills and Pepperdine claimed his first victory on the PGA Tour in the season opener, the Fortinet Championship on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa.
This week, the Sanderson Farms Championship will begin on Thursday at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Miss. The top players in the FedEx Cup standing are eligible for these five events at the end of the year, but mostly they are for guys trying to retain their PGA Tour cards for next season.
Defending champion Mackenzie Hughes (pictured) of Canada is back to defend the title he won a year ago with a birdie on the second hole to turn back Stepp Straka of Austria for his second victory on the PGA Tour and fourth as a professional.
However, Hughes has something else on his mind, as the Presidents Cup will be played next September at The Royal Montreal Golf Club in Montreal, Canada, where fellow Canadian Mike Weir will be the captain of the International Team.
“I think Justin Thomas alluded to this a little bit in the summer when he felt like he wasn’t playing very well and he kind of alluded to the fact that he wanted the U.S. Ryder Cup team so badly that it almost felt like a hindrance to him,” said Hughes, who also won the 2016 RSM Classic on the PGA Tour in a three-hole playoff.
“I know I’m similar in that sense, that like I would want the Presidents Cup probably too badly to a fault, and I need to keep that in check because, while I do want to be a part of that team, it is not life or death.
“But it would be one of the thrills of my career.”
Hughes has been a fan of Weir’s since the left-hander became the only Canadian to win the Masters in 2003.
A year after Weir claimed the Green Jacket at Augusta National, Hughes was a volunteer during the pro-am at the RBC Canadian Open, and he wound up being the caddie for an amateur in Weir’s group and he had his eyes on Weir as much as possible.
Hughes said it was that day that he decided he wanted to be a professional golfer.
“To think that 13-year-old kid could play for (Weir) at the Presidents Cup in Canada … it would be a cool story,” said Hughes, who also won on the PGA Tour Canada and what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. “Obviously there’s a lot of work to do before now and then, but I’m pretty determined.”
The only other former Sanderson Farms Championship winners in the field this week are Cameron Champ of Sacramento, who won the tournament in 2018, Ryan Armour, who earned a five-stroke victory in 2017, and Peter Malnati, who claimed the title in 2015.
1. Emiliano Grillo, Argentina—Beat Adam Schenk in a playoff earlier this year in the Charles Schwab Challenge to claim his second PGA Tour victory and fourth as a professional, and has posted 11 finishes in the top 25 in 2023—including fourth in the Zozo Championship. Grillo is playing in the Sanderson Farms for the fifth time and he finished in a tie for fifth last season.
2. Eric Cole, United States –A 12-time winner on the Minor League Golf Tour, Cole came close to his first PGA Tour victory when he lost to Chris Kirk on the first hole of a playoff in the Honda Classic earlier this year, one of his eight top-25 finishes, including a tie for fourth in the Fortinet Championship recently. Shot 78-68—146 to miss the cut in the 2022 Sanderson Farms.
3. Ludvig Aberg, Sweden—The 22-year-old rookie is the only player in the field who played in the Ryder Cup, going 2-2 with two victories in Foursomes to help Europe regain the trophy. Aberg, who has won three times in Europe, including the Omega European Masters last month, and has posted eight finishes in the top 25 this season. He is making his Sanderson Farms debut.
4. Keith Mitchell, United States—Claimed his only PGA Tour victory in the 2019 Honda Classic when he held off Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler by one stroke, and Mitchell has eight top-25 finishes this season, including a tie for fourth at Pebble Beach and two fifths. However, he has missed the cut in all three starts in the Sanderson Farms, failing to break 70.
5. Stephan Jaeger, Germany—A six-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, Jaeger has eight top-25 results on the PGA Tour this year, including ties for ninth in the Cadence Bank Houston Open and the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He is playing in the Sanderson Farms Championship for the seventh time, and his best finish was a tie for 14th in 2018, when he shot 67-67 on the weekend.
6. Beau Hossler, United States—The 14-time winner as an amateur still is looking for his first pro victory after coming close in the 2018 Houston Open, where he lost to Ian Poulter on the first playoff hole. This year, Hossler has finished in the top 25 on 11 occasions, including third in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He tied for 10th in the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship.
7. Nick Hardy, United States –Teamed with Davis Riley to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans earlier this year for his first pro victory, after losing to Harry Hall in a three-hole playoff at the 2022 NV5 Invitational on the Korn Ferry Tour. Hardy has eight finishes in the top 25 on the PGA Tour this year. Last season, he tied for fifth in the Sanderson Farms Championship.
8. S.H. Kim, South Korea—The three-time winner as a professional in Asia, Kim carded four rounds in the 60s and finished two shots behind Sahith Theegala in second place in his last start in the Fortinet Championship, and has nine finishes in the top 25 on the PGA Tour this year. He tied for 13th last year with a 656 in the third round in his only start in the Sanderson Farms.
9. Mackenzie Hughes, Canada—Earned his second victory on the PGA Tour and fourth as a pro when he beat Sepp Straka of Austria on the second playoff hole in the Sanderson Farms last year, as he also won the 2016 RSM Classic on the third extra hole. Hughes, who has six top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour in the last year, also tied for 26th in the 2016 Sanderson Farms.
10. Garrick Higgo, South Africa—A seven-time winner as a pro, including his only PGA Tour victory in the 2021 Palmetto Championship, Higgo also won the 2020 Sunshine Tour Championship at home in South Africa and has three titles on the DP World Tour. He has seven top-25 results in the last year, including solo third in his first Sanderson Farms start last season.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Alex Smalley, United States; Alex Noren, Sweden; Tom Hoge, United States; Mackenzie Hughes, Canada; Mark Hubbard, United States; Sam Ryder, United States; K.H. Lee, South Korea; Doug Ghim, United States; Callum Tarren, England; Kevin Streelman, United States.
1. MJ Daffue, South Africa—Won five times at Lamar University and claimed only pro victory in 2013 NeSmith Chevrolet Classic. Lost in a playoff at 2022 Boise Open on Korn Ferry Tour.
2. Peter Malnati, United States—Has won seven times as a pro, including the 2015 Sanderson Farms, and was second there in 2020. Was T-11 in the Fortinet, his sixth top-25 result this year.
3. Eric van Rooyen, South Africa—Has four pro titles include 2021 Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour, 2019 Scandinavian Open on the DP World Tour. He has six top-25s this year.
4. C.T. Pan, Taiwan—Claimed third pro victory in 2019 RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour. T-3 in Canadian Open, solo fourth in AT&T Byron Nelson this year. T-11 in 2021 Sanderson Farms.
5. David Lipsky, United States—Four-time winner as a pro, including 2014 European Masters, 2018 Alfred Dunhill Championship. Lipsky’s best this year was T-4 at Sony Open in Hawaii.
For first-round tee times and results once the tournament begins, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard