By Jesse Smithey, Knoxville News Sentinel
When the Hooters Tour resumes June 12 in Rogers, Ark., former University of Tennessee golfer David Skinns will be its top dog - its Tiger Woods.
With two wins this season - one in a playoff and the other by five shots - Skinns leads the money list with $80,346. Second place is $48,130.
In PGA Tour money, a $32,000 difference between first and second is a photo finish. On the Hooters Tour, it's a landslide.
"I feel a lot more comfortable out there now," said Skinns. during a recent phone conversation.
Skinns was the 2005 SEC champion his senior season and was a two-time All-American for the Vols. However, his name didn't frequent professional leaderboards until 2007, when he finished 30th on the Hooters Tour money list.
"Obviously he was a great player in college," said former Tennessee teammate Andrew Pratt. "(But) he struggled a little bit when he first got out (on tour).
"This year, he's found something that's working for him. I'm sure this year will be a breakout year for him."
Skinns said he wasn't struggling, but he did find that "something" to which Pratt referred.
"I was trying to find my feet," said Skinns, a native of Lincoln, England. "It's difficult when you first turn pro and have to play for money and it's your job.
"I think that takes a year for anyone to get used to. But I wouldn't say I struggled. It's about finding your own routines. We have a few of us that travel together, and we like to do the same things. So, it's not stressful at all at tournaments. It's just a case of going out and playing."
Skinns' play this year doesn't offer any objective rewards except the money. If he were the Nationwide Tour's top money leader or in its top 25 at season's end, he'd automatically be promoted to the PGA Tour. The Hooters Tour is not a tributary circuit of any higher tour, though, and offers its leaders no promotions.
It does, however, pay for its top players' $4,500 entry fees into the PGA Tour qualifying-school event each fall.
So for Skinns to gain any status on the Nationwide Tour, he'll need to either play well at Q-school or get some sponsor's exemptions and play his way up the ranks.
Skinns did not receive an exemption for the upcoming Knoxville Open (June 19-22) but hopes some will come his way soon on the wave of his recent success.
He has one Nationwide Tour start: the 2006 Knoxville Open, gained via a sponsor's exemption. Skinns' bout with mononucleosis that week led to a missed cut.
"The problem with the Nationwide Tour is that they don't have many (exemptions) to give out," he said.
The good thing is Skinns' season has eliminated all worries over expenses for next year. "The sooner you can do that the better," he says. And it has his former coach quite proud.
"We think it's tremendous what he's been able to accomplish there, winning those two tournaments," said Tennessee men's golf coach Jim Kelson. "He didn't necessarily have a sponsorship gold platter so to speak. He had to go out and do it on his own, which I feel is an admirable thing. It's nice to do it that way, that way you don't owe anybody money back. But it's a difficult thing to do, because it puts a lot of pressure on you.
"We're excited about him being successful as he enters into a new chapter in his life."