Now that they have gotten into one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the world — right in their backyard this year — they want to take advantage of the opportunity.
The two Calhoun County players and State Four-Ball semifinalists each got into the event, which starts today at Shoal Creek, as alternates.
It’s not so much how they got in, but just that they did.
“I’m just excited to play because the field is so strong,” Burgess said. “I’m looking forward to it, just to get in the mix with a bunch of good players.”
“To be able to play in a tournament this big 45 minutes from your house is a pretty good opportunity,” Fite said.
The Southern Am has always been a respected event, boasting past champions such as Bobby Jones, Hubert Green and Ben Crenshaw, but was limited by geography.
It jumped into the world’s consciousness after opening its field beyond the traditional 14 Southern states and moving around to the best courses in the region.
Now, the R&A ranks it as the seventh most important amateur championship in the world.
“This is just the culmination of a number of things,” Southern Golf Association executive secretary Buford McCarty said. “Primarily when we decided to expand this tournament outside the 14-state area, it just opened us up to all the world’s best players.
“If you really were to boil this thing down, this is probably the largest amateur stroke play event in the world, because the others, they’re all match (play). ... It was a wonderful day when the board decided to open this thing up and make it where anybody can play in it.”
Additionally, the winner gets a spot in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a perk defending champion Gregor Main said was hard to not think about coming down the stretch last year in Memphis, Tenn.
“After the first round, if you play well, it will be hard to not thinking about being able to play at Bay Hill,” Burgess said. “... Crazier things have happened, I guess.”
The field is stout, boasting six of the top 10 players in the national college or world amateur rankings, including No. 1 Russell Henley (Georgia), Alabama’s Bud Cauley (No. 5) and two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith.
The final few spots in the field were determined by a qualifier at Shoal Creek on Monday.
“I think most of the really good players in this tournament are all going to be college people,” Fite said. “Even though I have a good situation, it’s tough to compete with people who don’t work.”
“That’s what I’m looking forward to the most,” Burgess said. “Just kind of comparing and see how I stand as far as my ability and whatnot against those guys.”
Burgess has never played in the Southern Am before, but Fite has — and done quite well. When the event was played at the Country Club of Birmingham in 1998, the Anniston attorney — then a University of Alabama player — shot 66 to grab the opening-round lead and had a top-20 finish.
That’s a nice memory to take into the tournament, but Fite said he doesn’t have any expectations for the week.
“I still think I can play, although I haven’t played that well this year,” Fite said. “I think I’m a better player now than I was then, so I don’t have to play my best to always compete, but in something like this you’re going to have to play your best.
“... I just want to play well and if I do, then maybe I’ll have a chance to do something special.”