When Andrew Magee won the 1994 Northern Telecom Tucson Open, he confessed that he had spent the week playing with total strangers.
"I didn't recognize half the guys in the field," he said 16 years ago. "I didn't know how to pronounce the name of a guy in my group, so I stayed away from him."
That guy was 23-year-old Jim Furyk, who finished seventh that week in his introduction to the PGA Tour.
One of the runners-up to Magee was 26-year-old Steve Stricker, who entered the Tucson Open having finished Nos. 261 and 186 on the tour's money list the previous two seasons.
Today, Stricker is the No. 1 seed and Furyk No. 3 entering the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain.
In many ways, pro golf is as much a Futures Tour as anything else. Last year, at 19, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Japan's then-17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa were considered novelties. Ishikawa was here, as an alternate, but he didn't do much more than hit some range balls.
Today, older and wiser, we know better. McIlroy, No. 7 in the world, and Ishikawa, No. 34, appear destined to become golf's next big things.
So don't be discouraged if you don't recognize all the names on the massive scoreboards at Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. That's just golf.
Every pro golf tournament, even the Masters and especially the U.S. Open, produces names that make you wonder if you tuned into the John Deere Classic, or suspect they had a father-in-law on the tournament selection committee.
John Merrick was sixth at the Masters last year and Ken Duke 35th.
Matt Bettencourt was 10th at the U.S. Open and Azuma Yano 25th.
Last year at Jack Nicklaus' annual invitational, the Memorial, Michael Letzig was one stroke back, paired with Tiger Woods, in the final round.
Letzig is now ranked 236 in the world, which means he won't be part of the 64-man field at Match Play this week, but it's likely that he has a higher domestic profile than a dozen guys who are, including No. 48 Edoardo Molinari and No. 45 Francesco Molinari.
If the PGA Tour event in your city has more than 40 recognizable names, you are either in a golf fantasy league or you need to get off the sofa more on Sunday afternoons. Trying to identify the bottom half of a tour event is more difficult than naming the starting skip on America's Winter Olympics curling team.
Few cities on the PGA Tour have paid more dues in the name of anonymity than Tucson.
When the Tucson Open was placed opposite the original Match Play event in La Costa, Calif., 11 years ago, our encumbered tournament was won consecutively by Gabriel Hjertstedt, Jim Carter, Garrett Willis, Ian Leggatt and Frank Lickliter II.
Amazingly, the crowds didn't diminish. In fact, they grew a bit. If any golf city can support a field that doesn't include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, Tucson will.
In February 1999, the Tucson Open lost 28 players from its '98 field to the Match Play debut: Mickelson, Stricker, Furyk, David Duval, Vijay Singh. It was a nervous time, and the future of pro golf in Tucson teetered.
The Tucson Conquistadores' marketing campaign that year was "You'll Have a Good Time" and although no one was fooled about the quality of the field, the tournament succeeded and even flourished.
Now, incredibly, here we are today with the best field of the West Coast swing. By good fortune, or timing, it will include defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, whose wife, Juli, gave birth to a boy (Harvey Jack) last Thursday.
Thus, Ogilvy, a two-time winner in Tucson, said he will be able to defend his championship and, in fact, dedicate it to Harvey Jack. Good for him. Good for us.
Here's some perspective on this year's West Coast swing:
The Bob Hope Classic did not have a player ranked in the world's top 30.
The Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego had five of the top 30.
The Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles had 11 of the top 30.
The Pebble Beach AT&T National Pro-Am had nine of the top 30 but none was in contention.
The Match Play event has 28 of the top 30. It doesn't mean an unrecognizable face, or faces, such as Graeme McDowell or Thongchai Jaidee, won't be the last two standing on Sunday.
If so, that's golf.
Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship last year and golf didn't implode. Sixteen of the top 18 from that event will be at Dove Mountain this week, including Yang, who beat Tiger in an epic finish.
The John Deere Classic it ain't.
Match Play bracket / B18
• Where: Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain
• When: Practice rounds are today and Tuesday; competition is Wednesday through Sunday
• Tickets: Visit www.worldgolfchampionships.com, call 1-866-942-2672 or purchase at the gate. Tickets range from $25 to $55 depending on the day.