Big win puts former Aspenite Hietala back on course
August 5, 2008
Last season on the Nationwide Tour, former Aspen local Ryan Hietala earned a total of $31,707 from playing in 23 tournaments.
On Sunday in Omaha, Hietala earned four times that much in just one afternoon after he charged from four shots down to defeat David Branshaw in a playoff at the Cox Classic.
For his first professional victory in three years, Hietala pocketed a $126, 000 check.
It was a much-needed boost of confidence for Hietala, who was in Aspen just four days before the start of the Cox Classic to play in a pro-am tournament that benefited Aspen Junior Golf.
Hietala was one of the original golfers in the fledging local program back in the 1980s before his family moved to Tucson in 1989 so he could pursue his golfing dreams full-time.
Before Sunday, however, those childhood dreams had run smack into the hard reality of trying to make headway as a professional golfer.
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According to the Nationwide Tour’s website, Hietala’s earnings for his previous 90 events as a professional were $187,170 ” which wasn’t enough to cover his expenses. Before the Cox Classic, he had made only five cuts in his previous 16 tournaments, which included an 0-for-10 stretch.
He was also all but an afterthought entering Sunday’s final round, before making a late charge to earn a playoff against Branshaw, whose bogey gave Hietala the win.
That one win has now put Hietala on the brink of making it back to the PGA Tour, where he played in 2006 and made just six of 23 cuts. The winner’s take in Omaha jumped Hietala from 122nd to 26th on the Nationwide Tour’s money list. The top 25 earn a spot on the PGA Tour the following season.
His previous Nationwide Tour win came at the Chitmacha Louisiana Open in March 2005, a victory that propelled him to the PGA TOUR in 2006 as a Nationwide Tour graduate.
Hietala, 34, gets his next chance to jump into the Nationwide’s top 25 when he tees off at this week’s Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.