Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Shooting Blanks

Four Streams golf pro Kris Blanks making a splash on the Nationwide Tour

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Last May, Kris Blanks tapped in a birdie on the final hole for a 25th-place finish at the Nationwide Tour’s Melwood Prince George’s County Open.

His score didn’t garner a trophy or a lucrative paycheck, but did qualify him for the following week’s tour stop. It was a start. Now the 35-year-old Ijamsville resident and Four Streams Country Club (Beallsville) pro is a fixture on the Nationwide Tour, the PGA Tour’s equivalent to Triple-A baseball.

On May 22-25, he’ll return to the Country Club at Woodmore in Mitchellville, hoping to once again give his career a boost.

‘‘I’m really excited,” Blanks said. ‘‘That’s where my whole year started for me last year. That’s how I was able to play my way onto the Nationwide Tour.”

Originally from Warner Robbins, Ga., Blanks moved first to Fairfax County, Va. then Alabama as a teenager. He attended NCAA Division III Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala. for three years and worked at a variety of courses and country clubs throughout the South before recently following his parents to Frederick County. His wife Tami competed in the 1994 U.S. Women’s Open. Together they have two children Kristopher Jr., age 3 and Brady, 1.

Professional golfers tend to inhabit warmer climates. Rarely do they scorn the tepid climates of the South or Southwest for the fickle weather of the Mid-Atlantic. However, Blanks has experienced little difficulty in his relocation. Like the U.S. Post Office, neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night have prevented him from honing his craft. Four Streams has proved an ideal setting.

‘‘I couldn’t ask for a better setup than what I have there,” he said. ‘‘It’s a world-class facility. It’s basically just a golf club. There’s no tennis courts or houses, so you’re kind out there and can really get lost in what you’re doing. The membership has been great to me so far. They know what I’m working for and have been really supportive.”

What Blanks is working for is a PGA Tour card. At the conclusion of each season, the Nationwide Tour’s top-25 money winners qualify for the PGA Tour. Golfers who win three tournaments in a given season automatically qualify for the remaining portion of the PGA Tour schedule. Currently, Blanks is ranked 25th with $62,594 in earnings in the 10 events he’s played. He’s notched four top-25 finishes and two top-10s.

‘‘I’ve never played on the PGA Tour, but just in talking to people who have, there seems to be a lot more camaraderie on the Nationwide Tour,” he said. ‘‘On the Nationwide Tour guys are generally pulling for other guys. That’s pretty neat. I’ve got a lot of guys I’ve become friends with and we’re all pulling for each other — ‘hoping I win, but that you finish second’. We’re all trying to get somewhere and that’s the PGA Tour.”

Despite 14 years as a pro, Blanks’ quest for his ultimate goal began in earnest on the 72nd hole last year at Woodmore. The top-25 finishers at each event automatic qualify for the subsequent tournament, which after Melwood was the LaSalle Bank Open in Illinois. Banks shot a 15-under par and finished third there. He tallied $90,831 in 15 total events in 2007 (good for 67tth on the money) and earned a yearlong exemption for 2008.

Now it’s back to where Act Two of Blank’s pro career commenced. Act Three might just be a birdie away.

‘‘I’ve got some mojo there,” he said of Woodmore. ‘‘I like the golf course; it sets up good for me. The people there are great. Now that I’m able to play there and sleep in my own bed, which will be nice, I’m definitely looking forward to that to have some sort of a home game. I’m really excited about coming out.”