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Lower has PGA on mind

NATCHEZ — Justin Lower is trying to ignore the elephant in the room, but until lately he said it’s been difficult.

Lower, the current money leader on the National Golf Association’s Pro Golf Tour, will be one of many aspiring golfers heading to Natchez next week for the 2013 Magnolia Bluffs Casino Classic at Beau Pré Country Club.

If Lower is still No. 1 on the leaderboard after next week’s classic, he will be given a PGA exemption to take part in the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open July 29-Aug. 4.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, but I’m doing my best not to really think about it,” Lower said. “I can only control what I do this week and next.”

The NGA Tour is a developmental tour whose golfers aspire to one day be on the PGA Tour. It’s Lower’s second year in the NGA Tour, and he got his first two wins at the Spring Hill Classic in late February and the Mountain Lakes Classic in late April.

But Lower said he’s been struggling of late, and he believes the thought of making the PGA exemption is the reason why.

“I’ve been thinking about what the others are doing, and I think I’m finally over that,” Lower said. “To get to the PGA Tour is where we all want to be one day — it’s why we’re all out there, and it’s why I’m putting so much pressure on myself. I feel if I can put that behind me and play golf, I’ll be in pretty good shape.”

The Ohio native and Malone University alumnus currently has a little more than $75,000 in earnings after 13 events heading into this week’s Florida Marine Open in Mandeville, La. Though money isn’t the reason he’s playing, Lower said it’s nice to have made that much by July.

“It’s a big deal,” Lower said. “It’s the most I’ve made, and it’s only the beginning of July. I’ve already made a lot more than last year, so it’s a big confidence booster. Hopefully I can keep it rolling. I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks, trying to get back to where I was, so I’m trying to get the confidence back.”

Lower went winless in his first year on the tour before finishing 8-under-par at 276 to win the Spring Hill Classic.

“I didn’t get off to a good start in any of the rounds, and it was kind of a grind the whole time,” Lower recalled. “I made two late birdies down the stretch on 16 and 17, and I kind of out-lasted everyone.”

At Mountain Lakes, Lower finished 4-under-par at 209 after the event was cut short after three days because of rain.

“I birdied the last three holes and went from being tied for fourth to getting a two-shot lead,” Lower said. “After that, Mother Nature held out for me. I wanted to be able to compete and prove myself again, but a win’s a win, and I’ll take it either way. The rainout wasn’t any surprise — there have been only two or three events that were actually 72 holes.”

Though he’s never been to Natchez, Lower said he’s looking forward to next week’s classic.

“Hopefully it’ll be a fun week,” Lower said. “I’m looking forward to the pairings party at (Magnolia Bluffs) Casino. Hopefully I’ll get some Southern cooking, too.”

The Magnolia Bluffs Casino Classic events go from July 8-14.