January 13, 2009 (UPDATED 1-19-09) –Several of the PGA Tour pro golfers with ties to Las Vegas are set to start the 2009 season at the Sony Open in Hawaii January 15-18, but former UNLV All-American Chris Riley won't be one of them. Riley, who qualified via the 2008 Q School, has a stress fracture of the 4th metatarsel of his left foot and most likely will miss four weeks. The other Las Vegas pros in the field are residents Alex Cejka, Bill Lunde, Scott Piercy, and Dean Wilson. Former UNLV Rebel Adam Scott is also playing as is defending Las Vegas PGA Tour event champ Marc Turnesa. Click now for official press conference with Scott after his runner-up finish.
"I just thought it was a bruise, but then I was urged to go see a doctor," says Riley, who splits time between a Las Vegas home and one in his native San Diego. "And then they said I needed an MRI and I was really surprised and thought they were taking it too far. But they did find the fracture. Fortunately for me it's only going to cause me to miss one tournament, Hawaii, because I probably wouldn't get into Phoenix and the Hope. As long as everything goes as planned I will be ready for San Diego." Riley is currently wearing a post-operative boot to stableize the foot, but didn't require surgery.
The Buick Invitational is played February 5-8 at Torrey Pines in San Diego, a course that Riley grew up playing. He discovered the fracture last week after dealing with a lot of pain while preparing for the 2009 season. Riley is a former member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, but hasn't played up to his potential for several years as he has played events on both the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour. Riley, who says the pain got to the point where he couldn't hit drivers and long irons during practice, won the 2002 Reno-Taho Open on the PGA Tour and the 2007 Rochester Area Charities Showdown at Somerby on the Nationwide Tour. And despite the injury setback he is excited about what 2009 will bring.
"I am hungry to get back to playing very good golf," says Riley, who is working with former UNLV Golf sports therapist Jay Brunza for the first time. "I've played decent golf the past few years, but I know I can play better. It's such a fine line … it's one or two shots a tournament that makes the difference. I look forward to proving myself, but not just to other people, but proving to myself that I can get back to the level I was. I still have it in me; I have the desire. My kids are on the way and everything is set up for me to have a good year." Riley and wife, Michelle, are the proud parents of two daughters, and Riley has always placed top priority on being a Dad, even if it negatively affected his performance on the course.
Riley is now 35 years old, and says that the new generation of players is making the talent pool on the PGA Tour even deeper. "There is always a new wave of players coming in, and the competition is really tough out there," says Riley, who notices that many of the players he used to compete against aren't even on the Tour anymore. "It's a big hill to climb but I am excited about it and it will be fun to compete against the younger guys. You have to play very well; mediocre golf doesn't get you anywhere."
Riley is also excited about the prospect of another former UNLV Rebel, Bill Lunde, who secured his PGA Tour membership by finishing 5th on the 2008 Nationwide Tour money list. Lunde, who was a member of the 1998 NCAA Championship team at UNLV, quit the game a couple of years ago, but then when he lost his 9-5 job, he picked up his clubs again. He played and dominated on the Butch Harmon Vegas Tour, then qualified for the 2008 Nationwide Tour, where he won the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational en route to securing his PGA Tour card.
"I really think he is going to have a great year," says Riley about Lunde, also a native of San Diego. "He will be very motivated and it wouldn't surprise me if he had the best year of any of the Rebel pros." Lunde spent his final day in Las Vegas before leaving for Hawaii practicing with his instructor, Jeff Belen. The two played at TPC Las Vegas and worked on the short game and other swing areas during the day. Lunde was all smiles and ready for the year.