It's year five of the LECOM Suncoast Classic, but tournament director Justin Kristich feels like he just got the job.
"It's funny how time goes by," Kristich said. "In certain areas (of planning), it gets easier, but new things pop up all the time. For the most part, I feel like we're a well-oiled machine at this point."
Kristich said the 2023 edition of the Suncoast Classic, a Korn Ferry Tour event, will match or exceed expectations set by the previous four tournaments. It will once again be held at Lakewood National Golf Club beginning April 20, crowning the tournament winner on April 23.
This will be the first year the event is held in April after being held in February each of its first four years. Kristich said the tournament has wanted the April date for years, as there is more daylight available and play can extend into the evening. That change will also mean food and drink stations stay open longer. In that regard, fans can expect similar setups to part Suncoast Classics. The tournament's "Fan Zone," located between the event's entrance and the 18th green, will include 25 different vendors, including a Tito's bar.
For fans who have not attended the tournament before, Kristich recommends walking the course to get a sense of everything. For people not wanting to do that, he said, hanging out at the 17th and 18th greens provides a good mix of action and access to vendors.
Alternatively, fans can pick a golfer and follow him for an entire round.
Who will be the next to join Byeong Hun An, Hayden Buckley, Andrew Novak and Mark Hubbard among the tournament's winners? There is no clear favorite, and the tournament is devoid of the bigger names who played in past events, like former Major winners Mike Weir and Angel Cabrera. The 2023 winner is likely to be an up-and-coming golfer who might make a name for himself at Lakewood National. It also could be a shot in the arm for a veteran golfer hoping to stay in the game.
Here are five golfers to consider following as the tournament gets underway.
Will it be a tournament of redemption for Gellerman? The 30-year-old was a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole away from winning the 2022 Suncoast Classic, but he pushed his putt to the right, landing six feet away. He then missed a par putt that would have placed him in a playoff with An. Gellerman then lipped out a third putt before finally putting it away to finish tied for sixth (15 under par).
It was a difficult finish to an otherwise strong tournament. If Gellerman plays as well in 2023 as he did in 2022 — minus the 18th-hole putting — he will have a chance to avenge the heartbreaking ending. However, he currently ranks 99th in the Korn Ferry Tour standings.
Will 2023 finally be the year Xiong unlocks his potential? Xiong was once the top junior golf prospect in California, and he won the Jack Nicklaus and Fred Haskins awards as a sophomore at the University of Oregon, cementing himself at college golf's top player — and earning comparisons to Tiger Woods from his coach, Casey Martin, a former teammate of Woods' at the University of Stanford.
Xiong, 24, has failed to capitalize on his talent since turning pro in 2018. He's currently 107th on the Korn Ferry Tour points list. But one strong tournament could make all the difference.
Xiong played in the 2022 Suncoast Classic and missed the cut (four under par).
The spelling of Coody's name is not be traditional, and his results have not been either. Coody, a 23-year-old University of Texas graduate, joined the Korn Ferry Tour ranks in 2022 and has been a feast-or-famine golfer ever since.
Take the start of the 2023 season as proof: Coody won the Panama Championship, held at Panama Golf Club in Panama City, Panama, at 3 under par in February. But Coody has missed the cut in all four other Korn Ferry Tour events he's played this year.
Coody joined the tour after the 2022 Suncoast Classic, so the 2023 event will be his first crack at the Lakewood National course. Fans who follow Coody may be watching the eventual winner, or he may be toward the bottom of the leaderboard come Friday afternoon.
Luck, who is from Australia, rose to No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings in March 2017, taking the title from former Suncoast Classic runner-up Maverick McNealy. Luck has not had the Korn Ferry Tour success, and now PGA Tour success, that McNealy has had, but he's still 26 and has a chance to figure out his game.
Luck finished tied for 55th (six under par) at the 2022 Suncoast Classic. He's currently 38th in the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour standings, but has only missed one cut in five events and has three finishes of 27th or better.
Gainey, 47, is still a threat to challenge despite his advancing age. The veteran golfer has four combined wins in his PGA Tour (1) and Korn Ferry Tour (3) careers, most recently winning the Korn Ferry Tour's 2020 Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course in Great Exuma, Bahamas.
Gainey is known for his "Two Gloves" nickname, as he wears a pair of black, weather-resistant gloves each tournament, a quirk passed onto him by his father. Gainey also has an unusually erratic swing which he uses with a baseball grip, making him an all-around unique watch.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.