Am champ takes time

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

Playing in the Masters still wasn't enough to convince Gregory Puga to turn pro.

After winning the 2000 U.S. Mid-Amateur, Puga got the chance to earn his stripes at Augusta National.

However, instead of following his peers to the PGA Tour, the Los Angeles native wanted to travel a different trail.

"I could've turned pro a long time ago but I might not have been able to play in Australia or South America," said Puga, who turned in his amateur status two weeks ago.

"After I won the Mid-Am, I got invited to play all over the world at amateur events.

"I played in Europe, Australia, South America a whole bunch of times. I think the only continent I haven't been to is Africa.

"I've done my travelling, which I've always wanted to do, so I turned pro," added Puga, who qualified for the Nationwide Tour's Alberta Classic yesterday after shooting 66 at McKenzie Meadows.

Puga was one-of-14 players to qualify for the Alberta Classic yesterday, which begins Thursday at Redwood Meadows in Bragg Creek.

While Puga's 6-under was good enough to earn a berth into his first Nationwide event, it wasn't the best score on the day.

Adam Short of Vineland, Ont., -- a Canadian Tour regular -- and Dallas, Tex., native B.J. Staten both carded 6-under 65's to lead the day.

Wes Heffernan was the only Calgarian to make the 3-under cut yesterday.

Puga, 34, is a little older than your average pro rookie but that's not a result of stamping his passport.

"I didn't start golf until I was 16," explained Puga. "By 16, Michelle Wie is playing on the PGA Tour. At 16, I was just trying to make contact with the golf ball, so I would say I'm a late bloomer."

Also late was Puga's clubs arriving in Calgary.

Normally a very aggressive player, Puga was forced to take a more conservative approach yesterday as he couldn't take in a practice round Sunday.

Nonetheless, Puga didn't need to go on the attack as his accuracy from the tee put him position to make some easy birdies.

"I two putted for birdie a couple of times today," he said.

"Just from looking at (the course), you can't just hit driver and chip around the green.

"There's a bunch of holes here where you have to place it in the right place, you can't just launch a driver.

BIG HITTER ADDED: Former long drive champion champion Jason Zuback of Calgary was given a late sponsor's exemption yesterday by president Mark Hlady.

Zuback, who was formerly a member at Redwood Meadows was out practising yesterday at his old track.

Amateur James Love of Calgary and Robert Ames -- Stephen Ames's younger brother -- were also given exemptions.


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