VALDOSTA -- As one set of golfers toured the Kinderlou Forest Golf Club for Saturday's pro-am, another set settled in the Ravine Grill focused on one of the bar's televisions.

The golfers were watching The Ryder Cup coverage, as many of the world's best golfers were being tested in the bi-annual competition.

Those in the crowd who are in town for this week's Langdale Ford Championship, the next-to-last event on the 2004 NGA Hooters Tour, could only wonder. Down the road, could it be them on television with the weight of the golfing world on their shoulders?

It just may happen.

For now, the field of 160-plus golfers in Valdosta will be playing for a tournament title on one of professional golf's developmental level. Play begins at 7:30 a.m. today, with golfers playing off both Nos. 1 and 10 tees. Second-round play begins at 7:30 a.m. Monday, with the final 36 holes set for Tuesday.

Admission is free for the event at Kinderlou Forest Golf Club, Lowndes County's newest course located three miles west of Valdosta off Highway 84. The course was designed by Davis Love III, who's also on the Ryder Cup team.

Compare this golf situation to something more local. Remember Randall Godfrey making tackles at Lowndes High, or Todd Peterson kicking the go-ahead field goal for Valdosta High in the 1987 Winnersville Classic? Today they are National Football League veterans.

Remember the Drew brothers playing baseball at the Boys Club and at Lowndes High? These days J.D. is having a career year for the Atlanta Braves, and Tim is getting another shot at the major leagues, also in Atlanta.

Only the most die-hard golf fan would recognize many of the names playing at Kinderlou -- minus the handful of local golfers who got a spot in the field. But five years from now, you could be saying, "I remember when he played that Hooters Tour stop in Valdosta."

Five of the current U.S. Ryder Cup team members have Hooters Tour experience. Chad Campbell played four years (1997-2000), while Chris Riley (1997), Stewart Cink (1995), Jim Furyk (1992) and David Toms (1989-90) are also NGA Tour alums.

"We're trying to earn our stripes. This is a developmental tour in the truest sense," said Gainesville, Fla.'s, Nick Gilliam, who's played events on the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour this year as well as nine events on the NGA Tour (eight made cuts, $45,162.33 in winnings). Gilliam finished second last week at Dothan (10-under), bested only when NGA Tour money leader Will Mackenzie shot a final-round 62.

Three years ago, Gilliam was the NCAA Division I individual champion and helped Florida to the team title.

"We're trying to learn how to travel, how to shoot good scores," Gilliam said. "And we're learning how to manage our time and money. There's a lot of different processes which take place."

And a little luck would help.

"The top echelon of golfers on the Hooters Tour are as good as the golfers on the PGA Tour," said Gilliam. "We're all capable of hitting the shots, we're all capable of shooting scores. It's learning how to manage yourself in front of a crowd, to manage so many more obligations. Generally speaking, it's playing under the pressure of a big-time setting."

"It's a small margin. They're missing a break here or there," said NGA Hooters Tour regional tournament director Todd Barbee. "Our guys could go out on the PGA Tour and compete on a daily basis. They're not far from being on TV on Sunday afternoons."

This is Gilliam's third year playing NGA Tour events. He took time from the Hooters Tour this summer to try his hand at the bigger tours. He made the cut at the PGA Tour stop in Milwaukee, finishing 76th with a 6-over 286 score.

"We're trying to get out there, we've just not been successful," Gilliam said. "I've played nine NGA events, with four top fours. I felt like I could have won. I'm just trying to get smarter and be more consistent."

And some day play on the major-league level.

'Ten or 15 playing here this weekend could be playing on the PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour the next three years," Gilliam said. "From just people I know on the PGA Tour gives me hope."

For first-round tee times and more tournament information, go to the tour's website at ngahooterstour.com. For pairings, click on schedule, then go to the bottom of the page. On the Langdale Ford Championship line, click on info. Then click on pairings on left-hand side of page.

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