Aaron Watkins isn't far removed from his college days at Kansas State. It also wasn't long ago that the 28-year-old from Mesa, Ariz., played well in two Wichita Opens, making him eager to see how things play out in this week's tournament at Crestview Country Club.
"This is up there for me," said Watkins, who is in his second full year on the Nationwide Tour. "It's a lot easier coming to a golf course where you've had good vibes."
Watkins tied for 13th at Crestview during his rookie season in 2007. Then after making the field through Monday qualifying two years ago, he finished 11th after opening the tournament with a 63.
"I read the greens here extremely well for some reason," Watkins said after playing in Wednesday's pro-am at Crestview. "I don't know what the difference is between here and everywhere else, but it seems to be a lot more natural out here."
Watkins became the second former K-State golfer to earn a PGA Tour card in 2009 when he made it through all of the stages of the tour's qualifying tournament. He tied for seventh at the Zurich Classic early in the season, but missed cuts in 12 of 18 tournaments and didn't retain his playing privileges.
His second journey on the Nationwide Tour has been promising. Watkins played well in four of his first five tournaments, including a second-place finish at the Bogota Open in which he lost a playoff to tour veteran Steve Pate.
A stretch of seven missed cuts in nine events knocked Watkins from the top 25 of the tour's money list, but he will start the Wichita Open in 30th with $101,176 in season earnings.
Watkins has posted scores in the 60s in all eight of his previous rounds on Crestview's North course. It's all part of the good karma he feels when he's in the Sunflower State.
"This side of the Midwest is a part of home for me," Watkins said. "It's nice for me to be back and see some friends from college. It's about as relaxing of an atmosphere as I can get."
More local flavor — Prior to this year, former Wichita State golfer Julien Trudeau's only start on the Nationwide Tour was in the 2006 Wichita Open, where he missed the cut. The 29-year-old Trudeau, who lives in Tempe, Ariz., is in his first full year on the tour after falling one stroke shy of earning his PGA Tour card at the tour qualifying tournament.
Trudeau has made just two of 13 cuts this year, tying for 44th at the Fresh Express Classic and tying for 27th at the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic in his native Canada.
Terradyne Country Club pro Greg Bray, the winner of a qualifier for local pros last week, will make his fifth consecutive Wichita Open start and sixth overall. Wichita Independent graduate Dodge Kemmer, who shared medalist honors at the Sand Creek Station qualifier on Monday, will make his pro debut today. The former Stanford golfer grew up playing at Crestview.
Another Monday qualifier, former Washburn golfer Ryan Deutsch, will make his second Wichita Open appearance.
Etc. —Robert Gwin of Montgomery, Texas, and Dustin White of Pueblo, Colo., were added to the Wichita Open field Wednesday, replacing Troy Kelly and Willie Wood.... Two-time winner Brad Elder (1999 and 2007) and Ben Bates (1997) are the only past Wichita Open champions in this year's tournament.... Tee times begin at 7 a.m. today and Friday.
At Crestview Country Club
1. Pro-Kyle Thompson, Eric Fahnestock, Christian O'Hara, Terry Rhea and Jeremy Zellers, 51;
2. Pro-Michael Walton, Mat Brane, Brandon Ferguson, Jeff Maes and Pat Meares, 53;
3. Pro-Jhonattan Vegas, Brian Baxter, Dick Drake, Aaron Drake and Nick Penner, 54;
4. Pro-Aaron Watkins, Dick Lewallen, Steve Rorebeck, Tarreld Shrinner and Jason White, 54.