Rhoden, Rodger advance

Former Dodger Rick Rhoden and former Pepperdine standout Alex Rodger are among a field of 40 finalists in The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas. Also, teenage brothers Gipper and Tony Finau, who just turned pro, are in the field as well. The 15 and 16-year-olds, respectively, are from Salt Lake. Match-play prelims are May 29-30 at Reflection Bay in Henderson. Stroke–play finals are June 7-8 at Wynn Las Vegas.

Below is the full press release from Brener Zwikel & Associates.

FOR $2 MILLION, GOLFS LARGEST WINNERS CHECK

Teenage phenoms the Finau brothers to turn pro, headline field that includes
Rick Rhoden, Billy Joe Tolliver and Spencer Levin, among a group
of up-and-coming pros, at The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (May 25, 2007) The final field has been set for The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas, and teenage brothers Gipper and Tony Finau, Rick Rhoden, Spencer Levin, Billy Joe Tolliver and Erik Compton highlight an eclectic 40-player field that will play for the biggest winners purse ever offered in golf, $2 million. The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas, in which entrants put up $50,000 apiece to play, begins with match-play preliminaries May 29-30 at Reflection Bay Golf Club in Henderson, Nev. and concludes with the stroke-play finals June 7-8 at Wynn Las Vegas. FOX will air the finals June 9-10.

We have believed that The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas would be a truly unique event ever since we envisioned it more than 10 years ago, said Steve Bartkowski, the former NFL quarterback who created The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas along with friend Jim Thomas. Now that we have a final field, we believe the quality and diversity of players and their backgrounds in this event will make for even more compelling preliminary rounds and, most importantly, final rounds that fans can enjoy nationally on FOX.

The unprecedented winners purse was only part of the draw for teenage brothers Gipper and Tony Finau (pronounced FEE-now). The 16 and 17 year olds, respectively, will turn professional at The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas. Timing and proximity to their hometown of Salt Lake City also played a part in the brothers decision to make the leap from standout, prodigious amateurs to golf professionals at The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas.

We were all thinking it would be a perfect scenario, said the boys father, Kelepi Finau. This is all they want to do. They know theyll have to face the world and answer some questions, but if your clubs do the talking, the conversations a lot easier.

The Finaus have alternated running away from the field in the Utah 4A high school state championship, combining to win the last three individual titles by a total of 19 shots, but they truly started making noise in the past year. In July, Tony Finau, then 16, won the Utah State Amateur. Two months later, Gipper, having turned 16 only a few weeks earlier, became the youngest player in Nationwide Tour history to make a cut when he made 14 birdies to fire rounds of 73-67140 (-4) at the Utah EnergySolutions Championship.

That was a big part of me turning pro, said Gipper, who Monday qualified for the event with a field-best 9-under-par 63 that included a stretch of four birdies and an eagle in five holes. The guys I played with, the way they treat you, everythings great. I think thats a great lifestyle to live, and hopefully, I get to live it early.

I just cant wait to get out there. I think I have a great chance at winning this thing.

But the Finaus are far from foolhardy teens. Kelepi said they understand the grind it takes to make it on golfs highest level. In fact, right after The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas, no matter the outcome, they have plans to do a month-long golf boot camp where they disappear with their caddies, trainers, et al., to really get their games, minds and bodies ready to tackle this new challenge. That is, if Gipper isnt playing in the U.S. Open. He recently made it to regional qualifying, which hell play June 5 in Denver. Tony missed it by one shot.

One thing they do already have is the length, and then some. During the Utah EnergySolutions Championship, Gippers eight measured drives averaged nearly 340 yards. However, in both length and stature, Gippers the shorter of the two hes only 6 feet tall to his 6-foot-4-inch brother. Published reports have both brothers routinely hitting 350-yard-plus drives.

The way they play the game, you have to see it to believe it, Kelepi said.

Golf Digests No. 1 athlete-golfer, former Major League pitcher Rick Rhoden will bring his plus-2.5 handicap to the table as he joins the competition. Rhoden has long dominated the Celebrity Golf Tour, and, since 2002, has frequently played with the best 50-and-over players in the world on the Champions Tour. Last year, playing under conditional status, he earned one top 10 and two top 25s in 15 starts, the highlight coming when he contended at the 3M Championship before going 1-over in his final five holes to fall back to a tie for sixth. Rhoden also earned a tie for 8th at the 2005 Constellation Energy Championship and a tie for 5th at the 2003 Allianz Championship, his highest finish to date. He also played in the 2003 and 2005 U.S. Senior Opens and the 2004 Senior PGA Championship, his highest finish a tie for 50th in 2005. Rhoden pitched from 1974-1989 in the Major Leagues, spending the majority of that time with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Spencer Levin, the fiery Northern Californian who thrust himself into the spotlight as a 20-year-old amateur in the 2004 U.S. Open, will also play. Levin, now 22 and a full-time professional, made his PGA TOUR debut at Shinnecock in 2004 with a bang. Helped by a memorable hole-in-one Thursday on No. 17 directly following a two-hour rain delay, Levin finished in a tie for 13th the lowest finish by an amateur in an Open in 33 years. Since his debut in 2004, Levin has made four cuts in eight starts on the PGA TOUR, and three cuts in five starts on the Nationwide Tour. Most recently, he won the Canadian Tours Iberostar Riviera Maya Open last weekend, his first Canadian Tour title. Levin holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to shoot a final-round, 7-under-par 65 and win by one stroke.
Billy Joe Tolliver also joins the field. Tolliver was recently ranked No. 8 among athlete-golfers by Golf Digest with his plus-1.5 handicap. Selected in the second round of the 1989 NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers, he played 10 years in the NFL, his best year coming in 1990 when he threw for more than 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns with the Chargers.
Erik Compton, who picked up the game as a rehab technique following a heart transplant in 1992, has made three cuts in his seven starts this season on the Nationwide Tour. Last year, he earned three top-10s and made 13 cuts in 21 starts for a total of $76,885 and a 72nd-place finish on the money list. That matched his finish in 2005, when he made eight cuts in 19 starts and earned two top 10s. His best finish on the Nationwide Tour is a playoff loss in the 2004 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open; the finish highlighted a season in which he made just seven starts but still put together three top-20 finishes and finished 88th on the money list. On the PGA TOUR, Compton has made five cuts in 11 career starts.
Larry Tedesco, president and CEO of Exchange Blvd., the parent company of sites like golfexchange.com, golfclubdemo.com, etc., will also play. Tedesco played professionally from 1992-1997, and, upon retiring, became an assistant professional at Augusta National from 1997-1999 before joining Exchange Blvd.

Also playing is a group of talented mini-tour players, including Kevin Streelman, who is currently second on the Hooters Tour money list; Dave Schreyer, who has won more titles (10) and more money on the Hooters Tour than anyone but Chad Campbell and played with Tiger Woods on Saturday of the 1997 U.S. Open; and Alex Rodger, who sums up the plight faced by so many mini-tour pros, a difficult path that $2 million would instantly smooth.

Tigers not thinking about his next paycheck, and Phils not thinking about his next paycheck, Rodger said. At our level, we are thinking about money, and Id love to be in a position where I dont have to think about it.

Added J.T. Kohut, whos battled dyslexia and epilepsy his entire golf career to get to where he is: One of the things about playing professional golf is that what you do for a living is not a secure job. We dont get benefits. Every day, you have that pressure that youd better perform. Having this in my account would take that away. That would help me go chase my dream even more. It would give me the opportunity to really go for what I believe in, and thats making it to the PGA TOUR.

The format of The Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas includes preliminary match-play rounds at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Lake Las Vegas Reflection Bay Golf Club May 29-30, which will carve the 40 entrants down to the top 12. Those 12 will compete in a 36-hole, stroke-play playoff June 7-8, 2007, at the Tom Fazio-designed Wynn Las Vegas Golf Course, for the $2 million winners share. Players winning their first two rounds of the match play win back their $50,000 entry fee, another $50,000 and a berth into the finals. The two wild cards from the consolation bracket win back their entry fees.

The $2 million winners share tops the other major golf events played this season THE PLAYERS ($1.62 million), the World Golf Championships ($1.35 million), the British Open ($1.338 million), the Masters ($1.26 million), THE TOUR Championship and other FedEx Cup playoffs ($1.26 million), the U.S. Open ($1.225 million) and the PGA Championship ($1.224 million).

For more information on the Ultimate Game at Wynn Las Vegas, visit the Web site at www.theultimategame.com or call 1-888-WYNN-BIG (888-996-6244).

FINAL FIELD LIST FOR 2007 THE ULTIMATE GAME AT WYNN LAS VEGAS

Beckstrom Colby Colleyville TX
Berry Chris Las Vegas NV
Cipriani Gui Boulder CO
Compton Erik Miami FL
Doeden Andy Fort Worth TX
Faria Ron Sag Harbor NY
Finau Gipper Salt Lake City UT
Finau Tony Salt Lake City UT
Hartmann Rick Sag Harbor NY
Hurst Travis Erie KS
Janton Dan Sugar Hill GA
Jarner Kenneth Las Vegas NV
Johnson Travis Bellflower CA
Kaufman Cory Bluffton SC
Kern Ben Scottsdale AZ
Kohut J.T. Simi Valley CA
Labritz Rob Pound Ridge NY
Lane Luke Fort Worth TX
Leen Randy Palm Beach Gardens FL
Levin Spencer Elk Grove CA
Moody Chris Lehi UT
Morin Alan Royal Palm Beach FL
Peters Justin Plantation FL
Piercy Scott Las Vegas NV
Ping David Omaha NE
Podas David Los Angeles CA
Rhoden Rick Ponte Vedra Beach FL
Rodger Alex Fort Worth TX
Schreyer David Peachtree City GA
Smith Byron Palm Desert CA
Sowards Robert Dublin OH
Streelman Kevin Winfield IL
Stroever Lee Jupiter FL
Strohman Shawn Meadowlakes TX
Tedesco Larry Cumming GA
Tolliver Billy Joe Shreveport LA
Weinhart Tim Suwanee GA
Whitson Nathan Ventura CA
Wilson John Indian Wells CA
Zackheim Eli Portland OR

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About Jill Painter

Jill Painter is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles News Group, covering everything from the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Kings, golf and all human interest stories in sports.