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Expert Panel makes picks for NGA’s Cherry Blossom Classic presented by Modern Distributors

Myrtle Beach, S.C. – (May 16, 2013) – To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NGA TOUR, we have assembled a “Panel of Experts” who specialize in the golf industry and have the experience of covering the NGA TOUR for multiple seasons. This panel of experts will make their top five selections each week for the NGA TOUR 18 Pro Series events this season and they continue with this week’s Cherry Blossom Classic being held at Cherry Blossom Golf Club in Georgetown, Ky.

Defending champion Rick Cochran III has done it all this week. He started the weekend with an interview on the “Weekend Golf Guys” and followed that up by participating in Tuesday’s Cherry Blossom Shootout (an event he also won last year). He then immediately proceeded to the Georgetown College NGA Junior Clinic the moment he was eliminated from the shootout. Then, before he could take a breath, he was a guest on the popular PGA TOUR Sirius XM Radio Network show “Maginnes on Tap,” hosted by NGA TOUR and PGA TOUR alum John Maginnes. Follow that up with a Wednesday of entertaining sponsors at the 6th annual Cherry Blossom NGA Classic Pro-Am Tournament and you wonder when has he had enough time to get a practice round in for this week’s event? Well, that still didn’t scare our experts from making him a unanimous selection this week.

Rick’s celebrity in Kentucky among NGA TOUR members is unmatched. The tweets were flowing Tuesday evening after the NGA’s junior clinic with pictures of Rick Cochran autographed golf balls and Rick Cochran pictures with the juniors. It’s the kind of celebrity that forced our expert Jesse Smithey from the Knoxville News-Sentinel to jump off the Peter Malnati bandwagon for one week and ride the Rick Cochran freight train as it plows through Georgetown this week.

While our expert Kevin Faigle from WRDW-TV CBS in Augusta didn’t pick Rick for the win, he might be better off in the runner-up spot where Kevin chose to put him. Last event Kevin had Blayne Barber in the second spot and the All-American from Auburn went on to win the event in McCormick, which is a good sign if you’re Rick Cochran this week.

Our third expert, Brian Stefan, the host of the “Myrtle Beach Golf Guys,” also has Cochran in his second spot, making Rick the first unanimous pick of the season. We’ll all be watching this week to see if Cochran makes believers – or misbelievers – out of our panel of experts.

While Rick made all three of our expert’s lists this week, no other player made more than one, which is also the first time that has happened this year. Even though they only made one list, Kentucky alum Mark Blakefield and Vandy alum Jon Curran made enough of an impression to top two of our expert’s list, and each for a very different reason.

Curran has been one of the hottest players on the NGA TOUR this season. He is currently sitting second on the NGA TOUR money list and has played his way into two PGA TOUR events along the way.

Blakefield comes in as a heavy favorite this week for a different reason. He has owned the event at Cherry Blossom in the past. Outside of an injury-plagued season in 2012, Mark has won the event twice (2008 & 2010) and finished T10 and T8 in his other two starts in the event (2009 & 2011). Few players have enjoyed the kind of success at one facility that Blakefield has had at Cherry Blossom. He’ll be looking to get back on the path this week as so many of our other members are hoping to do as well.

Here are our complete experts’ picks for the 2013 NGA Cherry Blossom Classic at Cherry Blossom Golf Club in Georgetown, Ky., (May 16 – 19), the 10th event of the 2013 NGA TOUR Pro Series season:

KEVIN FAIGLE (@kevinfaiglewrdw) has been the Sports Director for WRDW-TV CBS in Augusta, Georgia for seven years having covered the Masters plus numerous NGA Tour events during his time.


1. Jon Curran (Sequesta, Fla.; College: Vanderbilt) -Tough to bet against probably the most consistent guy on tour this year. Two wins, and all but one finish in the top 25. On a tour where you have to go low, Curran is doing it every time out.

2. Rick Cochran III (Paducah, Ky.; College: Middle Tennessee State) - Defending champ at Cherry Blossom so you know his confidence is there the moment he steps on the first tee. He's been sniffing a win this year but just hasn't made it over the hump. Look for him to be in contention all four days and maybe finally get the monkey off his back.

3. Patton Kizzire (St. Simons Island, Ga.; College: Auburn) - He's been sneaky good all year and is ready for that breakout week. This may be it. He made it through the US Open first round qualifier on Monday so his game is where it needs to be. Now he sets his sights on a win. You look at his stroke average per round and he gets better on the weekend. Look out if he could go low on Thursday or Friday.

4. Jack Newman (Des Moines, Iowa; College: Michigan State) - He's kind of been the opposite of Patton Kizzire. Been in the mix to start with strong opening rounds, but then has struggled on the weekends. He needs to get his mojo back and look for him to put four solid rounds together and be on the first page of the leaderboard this week.

5. Travis Hampshire (Zephyrhills, Fla.; College: Purdue) - Kind of a flyer here but when you spend most of the last two years on the Web.Com Tour, you have to be doing something right. He knows he has the game for the next level but has to prove it to himself once again. A good performance here could easily launch him to a big summer. Look for him to be a contender.

JESSE SMITHEY (@JesseKNS) has been covering golf for the Knoxville News Sentinel since 2006. He has covered three Masters (2006-07, 2012), a PGA Championship (2011) and the's News Sentinel Open eight times.


1. Rick Cochran III (Paducah, Ky.; College: Middle Tennessee State)) - He won the Cherry Blossom Classic last year. It only makes sense to pick him to play well again there this time around.

2. Chris Erwin (Brentwood, Tenn.; College: Valdosta State) - You don't shoot 59 at the Cherry Blossom Classic without having some good feelings about the course. I'm not calling for a 59 again, but if a course suits your eye good things usually happen.

3. Brent Long (Carthage, Tenn.; College: Western Kentucky) - Long's appearance on the "Big Break" will help bring him into the limelight a bit and give him that extra bit of confidence to propel him to more success -- perhaps starting this week.

4. Peter Malnati (Dandridge, Tenn.; College: Missouri) - Malnati recently made it through U.S. Open local qualifying in Cincinnati. He's having a consistent 2013, but a win would make it a great season.

5. David Holmes (Knoxville, Tenn.; College: Tennessee) -- Holmes also local qualified into the U.S Open Sectional round, showing the survival instinct needed to win a seven-hole playoff against a good friend to advance. His game is really in good form right now.

BRIAN STEFAN (@GolfMonger) is host of the "Myrtle Beach Golf Guys" on Sports Radio 100.3 The Team in Myrtle Beach and co-owner/editor of Sports Monger on the Green. Some would suggest Brian has “Mastered” the art of “Dufnering.”


1. Mark Blakefield (Maysville, Ky.; College: Kentucky) - Winner here in 2008 and 2010, so he seems to be due to win again. The native of Kentucky seems to feel right at home at Cherry Blossom so I will pick him in the No. 1 slot.

2. Rick Cochran III (Paducah, Ky.; College: Middle Tennessee State) - I almost always like the defending champ’s chances to put in a good showing. This week is no different.  He has yet to put together four really good days in a row this season, so maybe this week is the week.

3. Clayton Rask (Otsego, Minn.; College: Minnesota) - With a win and six top-25 finishes already this year, it is hard to go against Rask. That and he shares the name of a very hot goalie on the Boston Bruins, Tuuka Rask, and they are making a Stanley Cup run. Maybe there is something there....?

4. Justin Lower (Canal Fulton, Ohio; College: Malone) - 2 time winner on NGA Tour already and the Tour leading money winner. How do you not give this man a chance to win every week?  Besides, at this pace, I am not sure how many more times he will even be in the field for us to pick him before he is off to the Tour.

5. Cameron Carrico (Owensboro, Ky.; College: Murray State) - I am going off the map here. Another Kentucky native in the field and that has to give him an edge, right? This young man has not faired well at all so far this season. So I think a chance to play close to home is just what the doctor (or swing coach) ordered. I expect a strong finish from the Murray State alum.

Brian Stefan





















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