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Billings' Mike Grob set to make PGA Tour debut at Pebble Beach
James Woodcock/Gazette Staff The first native Montanan to earn full-time playing status on the PGA Tour, BillingsÕ Mike Grob will make his debut as a rookie on the 2003 Professional Golfers Association Tour at the prestigious Pebble Beach National Pro-Am beginning Thursday.

It wasn't that long ago that Mike Grob and his family spent their summers crisscrossing Canada as he competed on the far-flung Canadian PGA Tour.

Their home away from home was a 35-foot fifth-wheeler.

"I kind of miss those days," said Grob, who traveled with his wife Kristi and their daughters, Holly and Dana. "It was great. We had the kids' toys back there. They could sleep in their own beds. We were together every minute."

With Victoria, Edmonton and Toronto now in his rear-view mirror, Grob is looking ahead to more good times beginning this week. He is about to make his debut as a rookie on the 2003 Professional Golfers Association Tour at prestigious Pebble Beach, Calif.

The 38-year-old Billings resident will be among the 180 players competing in the $5 million AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He is the first native Montanan to earn full-time playing status on the PGA Tour.

"I'm looking at it as being a fun thing," said Grob, who has been waiting for this week for nearly 30 years. "I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to be patient and let things happen."

The 72-hole tournament begins on Thursday on the Monterey Peninsula and play will be televised by USA Network (Thursday and Friday) and CBS (Saturday and Sunday) from 1 to 4 p.m. First place is worth $900,000.

"I'm really excited, especially to play courses like Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Poppy Hill," said Grob. "I have never played there, so it's exciting to be able to go do that.

"Preparing for three different courses is really hard," he added. "But I'm not going to say I can't do well. You never know."

Grob, who spent last week in Phoenix, Ariz., practicing for his debut tournament, is hoping to compete in as many as 26 PGA tournaments this year.

"I feel pretty confident because I know so many guys," Grob said of playing regularly on the Tour. "I feel like I belong. I have people to play practice rounds with and people to go to lunch with.

"But they're still the best players in the world," he observed. "It's going to be extremely difficult, no way around it. You are going to have to play great everyday."

Amazing money Grob, a three-time former Montana State Amateur champion, has been playing professionally since his days on the Canadian Tour in 1988. He has played 11 of the last 14 years in Canada.

He was on the Nike Tour in the United States in 1999 and the Tour in 2000 and 2001.

Grob qualified for the 2003 PGA Tour by placing in a tie for 34th at the Q-school finals in La Quinta, Calif., in early December. While several Montanans have competed in PGA events in the past, Grob is the first to be fully-exempt from weekly qualifying.

"I take a lot of pride in putting Billings, Montana, on my starting sheet," he said. "It's really neat. Everywhere I go somebody comes up to me and says they're from Montana or want to talk about Montana. That's pretty special. When I was living in Orlando (Florida), nobody ever asked."

Grob's wife, Kristi, and their oldest daughter, Holly, will be part of the gallery at Pebble Beach.

This year's Tour has a 48-event schedule and a record $236 million in purses. All but seven of the events have purses of at least $4 million.

Last year 61 golfers made more than $1 million on the Tour.

"It's amazing. That's thanks to Tiger (Woods)," Grob said of the lucrative purses. "He has just made the game watchable for so many people. TV is just clamoring to bring more tournaments to the public."

As one of 29 rookies on the 2003 Tour, Grob and 19 others earned their playing privileges through the three-stage qualifying school. The other nine graduated from the Tour, which is one step below PGA competition.

"I haven't been able to play very much, so it's pretty rusty," Grob said of the current state of his game. "I will have a week to prepare here (in Phoenix). I want to try to go up there (Pebble Beach) with good fundamentals."

One-year pass Grob, who is usually very accurate off the tee, is expecting to also be in the field for the Buick Invitational Feb. 13-16 in San Diego. Tour events are scheduled to run through early November.

"I'm going to try to be patient," Grob said of his Tour game plan. "See if I can find a course that fits me and see if I can take advantage of it if I get up there close (on the leader board). If you have one weekend where you make every putt you look at, who knows?"

Grob is operating on a one-year pass. He needs to finish among the Top 125 money winners in 2003 to keep his fully-exempt status for the following year.

Last year's 125th-place finisher, Jay Williamson, pocketed $515,445 in winnings.

"It's reasonable for me to think that I can play well enough to place among the top 125 and keep my card," Grob said. "Other than that I really don't know. I don't really know the courses that well."

While this will mark Grob's debut as a full-fledged PGA Tour member, he isn't a complete stranger to PGA competition. While on the Canadian PGA Tour, Grob was able to take part in seven PGA events held in Canada.

His highest finish was a tie for 37th at the 1996 Greater Vancouver Open.

This year's PGA Tour rookies, which number eight more than 2002, come from various backgrounds and a variety of locations.

There's Andy Miller, who is the son of 1973 U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller, and James McLean, the 1998 NCAA individual champion from the University of Minnesota.

There's Aaron Baddeley, who lost to Ernie Els in a playoff for the Sony Open title in Hawaii in mid-January, and Carl Pettersson, who shared the first-round lead at the 2002 British Open.

And then there's Grob, who underwent hip replacement surgery in January 2000 and was back to playing competitive golf six months later.

"These guys are all capable (of winning)," Grob said of the rookie class. "I would say anybody has a chance."

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