Braden Thornberry looks for first professional win in his hemostat. Credit: Ole Miss media relations

Five states hold the distinction of hosting tournaments on all three PGA golf tours: The PGA Tour, the Champions Tour and the Tour.

Four of those states are easy to guess: Florida, California, North Carolina and Georgia.

The fifth?


The North Mississippi Classic debuts on the Tour April 18-22 at Country Club of Oxford, joining the Sanderson Farms Championship (Country Club of Jackson) on the PGA Tour and the Rapiscan Systems Classic (Fallen Oak near Biloxi) on the Champions Tour.

For those who don’t follow professional golf, the Tour, is for the PGA Tour what Class AAA is for Major League Baseball. It’s the proving ground for future multi-millionaires on the PGA Tour.

For example, Justin Thomas, the current leading money winner on the PGA Tour, played the Tour as recently as 2014. Patton Kizzire, who has won more than $3 million on the tour this year, was the 2015 Tour Player of the Year. Three times, Mississippian Jonathan Randolph has played his way onto the PGA Tour with successful performances on the Tour.

The field for the 72-hole, $550,000 North Mississippi Classic will include a mix of up-and-coming future stars and former PGA Tour players trying to play their way back onto the PGA Tour.

It also will include Braden Thornberry, the 20-year-old Ole Miss junior, the reigning NCAA champion, who recently won an Ole Miss record ninth tournament of his college career. Thornberry received a sponsor’s exemption into the North Mississippi Classic field.

Could Thornberry win a professional tournament as an amateur? In short, yes. Last summer, he finished tied for fourth in the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic at Memphis. He routinely shoots scores in college tournaments that could win events on the Tour.

That said, the competition will be stiff in the first-ever North Mississippi Classic. Among the up-and-comers are former LSU golfer Sam Burns, who was the NCAA Player of the Year in 2017. Recently, Burns was paired with Tiger Woods in the final round of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic. In front of a typical Tiger Woods gallery, Burns shot 68, Woods 70.

The field also will include Maverick McNealy, who was the world’s No. 1 ranked amateur when he broke many of Woods’ Stanford University records before he turned pro in 2017.

Former PGA Tour members, already proven winners on golf’s biggest tour, will play in the first North Mississippi Classic, including Stuart Appleby, Ken Duke, Jason Gore, Frank Lickliter II and several others.

Perhaps the best measure of the Classic field: former PGA Championship winner Shaun Micheel, who has won nearly $10 million on the PGA Tour, is an alternate hoping for a spot at Oxford.

The 72-hole tournament will be preceded by a Wednesday Manning Pro-am, hosted by Archie and Cooper Manning. Playing spots remain available for the Wednesday pro-am.

Like the Sanderson Farms Championship, the Oxford tournament will be for the benefit of Century Club Charities, which has raised more than $12 million for Mississippi charities through the Jackson-based PGA Tour event.

Said Steve Jent, executive director of both the Sanderson Farms and North Mississippi events, “This is a natural fit for us. We think hosting the North Mississippi Classic will help us foster relationships with young players who will be the lifeblood of the PGA Tour in coming years.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.