Cameron Champ, with the Sanderson Farms Championship champion’s trophy last October.

The PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship field – the best in the tournament’s 51-year history – does not include megastar golfer Tiger Woods.

Brandt Snedeker is in Sanderson Farms field.

But it does include Tennessean Brandt Snedeker, who has won 13 times as a professional and shot a 59 in last year’s Wyndham Championship.

The Sanderson Farms field does not include long-hitting Brooks Koepka, the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world. But it does include Cameron Champ, who actually hits the ball further and who won this tournament last year.

Rory McIlroy, the best player from Europe, will not play at the Country Club of Jackson this week, but K.J. Choi, who has won more than 20 times around the world and eight times on the PGA Tour, will play here. Choi has long been considered the best golfer Asia has ever produced.

We could go on. We should.

Rick Cleveland

Dustin Johnson is taking this week off, but that other Johnson, Zach Johnson, a five-time Ryder Cup pick who has won The Masters, The Open and 12 PGA tournament titles, will play here for the first time since before he got famous.

So will 2016 PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker, 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner, 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover and 2011 FedExCup champion Bill Haas.

Fifty-five of the 2019 PGA Tour’s top 125 money winners are in the field, including Chez Reavie, currently ranked the 26th best player in the world.

“It’s easily the best field in the history of our tournament,” said Steve Jent, the tournament’s executive director. “I’m extremely pleased, and I think we will see it get even better in the coming years when the word gets out about how good the golf course is and about our hospitality, how well the players are treated who come here.”

This week will mark the Jackson-based tournament’s first time as a stand-alone PGA event. The purse has soared to $6.6 million. The winner will take home a whopping $1,188,000. The tournament begins Thursday and runs through Sunday.

In the past, the Sanderson Farms event has been played opposite major golf tournaments such as The Masters or big, limited field world golf championship events. Not this time. Mississippi’s only PGA Tour stop will be played opposite of nothing. Not even the Korn Ferry Tour, golf’s version of Class AAA, has a tournament this week.

Surely tournament sponsors held out hope that a superstar such as Woods, Koepka or Phil Mickelson would decide to play here. That did not happen.

But 17 guys who have won PGA Tour tournaments over the past two years, will tee it up at CCJ. That’s unprecedented. Fifty-five of the players on the tour’s Top 125 money winners from 2019 will play here. That’s unprecedented, too.

Joaquin Niemann, who shot 21-under par to win a Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, long ago committed to play at CCJ. So did Tom Hoge, who finished second. Seven of the top nine finishers at The Greenbrier will play in Jackson.

This is another huge step for the tournament, which began as a $20,000 PGA “satellite tour” event in 1968 at the Hattiesburg Country Club. And that means it is another huge week for Batson Children’s Hospital at University of Mississippi Medical Center. Since 1994, the event has raised in excess of $15 million for the hospital, including a record $1.25 million donation this past year.

Braden Thornberry looks for first professional win in his hemostat.

There will be plenty local talent showcased. Braden Thornberry of Olive Branch and Ole Miss, the 2017 NCAA Champion, has been granted a sponsor’s exemption into the field. So has Hattiesburg native Davis Riley, a three-time All-American at Alabama, and 2019 Mississippi State Amateur champion Joe Deraney of Belden.

Throughout its existence, whether played in spring, summer or fall, Mississippi’s PGA Tour tournament has been plagued by inclement weather. Hurricanes, tornadoes and floods all have delayed or cancelled the tournament. That should not happen this week. The forecast calls for unseasonably hot temperatures and little chance of rain.

“We can do heat,” Jent, the tournament director said. “We can do without the rain.”

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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.