By TIM TROWER
The two best golfers produced in Southern Oregon in the past quarter-century or so were in the same U.S. Open sectional qualifying field earlier this week, but Ashland's Jason Allred and Medford's Mike Barry didn't get a chance to exchange pleasantries.
Barry, one of 14 amateurs in the 48-player field, was finishing his first round as Allred, a professional who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., began his second round.
"That was unfortunate," said Barry, a former Oregon State player who lives in Medford and is seeking sponsorship opportunities in hopes of beginning a pro career.
After his round, Barry checked the scores and saw that he and Allred both shot 74s in the first round at Gold Mountain Golf Club's Olympic Course in Bremerton, Wash.
"I was thinking it would be kind of nice if both of us could go out and put up a good number in the second round," said Barry. "He shot really well in the second round. Sixty-nine is a solid score out there. I'm sure he wasn't too happy with the first round, just like I wasn't. But he did what he had to do to give himself a chance."
Neither local player advanced to the U.S. Open, which starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Four berths were on the line, and they went to medalist Chris Williams, a University of Washington junior, who had rounds of 70 and 68 for a 6-under-par 138; and Canadian Tour players Wes Heffernan (139), Adam Hadwin (139) and John Ellis (140).
Allred's 143 tied him for eighth place. Barry followed his 74 with a 75 and tied for 28th place.
Each player had to get through local qualifying to get into the sectional.
When Barry learned he'd be playing Gold Mountain, he was excited. A year ago in his senior season with the Beavers, Barry played the first two rounds of the West Regional there at close to par and finished in the top 15.
"I played it pretty well and felt like I had a pretty good chance," he said of this week's qualifier. "I'd been practicing really hard. I just never really found a good, consistent swing to turn to. For a tournament like that, you need it."
Barry found himself playing catch-up from the outset. He started his first round on No. 10, a 386-yard par 4 that doglegs slightly to the left. With 3-wood in hand, he hit his tee shot left of the fairway, only to lose his ball.
"There were a couple of trees, but it's not like there was tall grass," said Barry. "It was decent rough. We looked for five minutes and never found the ball. It was pretty strange."
Barry trudged back to the tee box and hit again, saddled with a two-stroke penalty. He made triple bogey.
"That's tough to do on the first hole, and you've got the whole day in front of you," he said. "But I thought I battled back really well."Jimmy White, a former University of Oregon player who now lives in Eagle Point, was on Barry's bag.
"We were talking after the first hole," said Barry. "It's funny, but after you have a start like that, you have some of your best rounds. You have to keep your eye on the finish line and play them one shot at a time. I made birdie on the next hole and refocused. Unfortunately, I never got any momentum going, but it was a good experience."
Barry doesn't intend to play a lot of events this summer. He had considered joining former OSU teammate Diego Velasquez in Orlando, Fla., to play on a mini tour but shelved those plans in favor of staying home, working and saving money.
A couple of tournaments he plans to play in are the U.S. Amateur qualifier and Oregon Stroke Play Championships, both at Emerald Valley in Creswell.
THE EAGLE POINT golfing community got stirred up when it was learned the local high school's boys and girls programs were to be axed as part of the district's proposed $35.1 million budget.
The cutting of league middle school sports gained much of the attention when a reduction of some $200,000 in athletics and activities was proposed. But when it came to light that high school golf and cross country would not be funded, heads turned and the ire of some rose.
At a school board meeting Wednesday, public comments were allowed and a number of proponents for keeping the golf programs stepped forward and spoke of their passion for the game and the need to keep the sport alive.
There was a work session prior to the public comment portion, and it was there that Eagle Point High athletic director Brian Winter outlined plans to keep golf and cross country, albeit in a different format.
The sports will take on club status, meaning they'll operate outside the realm of the athletic department and rely heavily on volunteers, fundraisers and donations. But they'll be sanctioned by the school and will be eligible to compete as they normally would in district and state competition governed by the Oregon School Activities Association.
Winter said Ashland, the region's other Class 5A school, is adopting the same approach. Similarly, he said, the Eugene schools are going to club status with their golf programs, as are other districts around the state.
"It's tough," Winter said this week by phone. "You hate for any sport or activity to be on the chop, whether it's middle school or high school. These are tough times in education. We haven't had the numbers there, so when you're looking at reductions, those are the sports that jump up.
"We're hopeful that both those sports come back in a club format."
Eagle Point had nine golfers this past spring. Eight were on the boys team, including one senior, and one girl participated but didn't compete.
Eagle Point Golf Club head professional Patrick Oropallo encouraged club members to attend Wednesday's meeting and speak on behalf of the program. The turnout filled the board room.
"It was neat to see the Eagle Point golf community come together in support of the golf program," he said.
Many left feeling comfortable with the club-sport decision, he said.
It cost about $9,000 to run the program this past season, said Winter. About $3,000 remains in a school golf fund, and that money would be applied to the program even if it's a club sport, he said.
The biggest downer of the decision, said Oropallo, is that coach Tim Dexter won't be able to continue in that capacity. He's done a "tremendous, tremendous job," said the pro.
The cutting of golf eliminates Dexter's coaching stipend. Were he to volunteer, the school couldn't pay for substitute teachers on days he'd miss for tournaments. Doing so would violate OSAA rules, said Winter.
Winter lives near the course and understands the passion exhibited by supporters in this "golf-centric" community, as Oropallo called it.
"When (adult golfers) see the kids at the course, they make a connection," said Winter. "They have a vested interest in those kids. No one wants to see it go away."
Winter hopes many of the people who voiced concern will step forward by next spring. Volunteers will need to go through normal procedures of certification and training, he said.
"I know it's going to happen," said Winter, "because of all the emails and phone calls I've gotten asking what needs to be done."
Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com