Casey Martin sat at the counter, getting ready to dive into a lunch wrap and chips at Centennial Golf Club this week.
I wanted his thoughts on the American Junior Golf Association tournament that was going on outside the clubhouse walls but said I'd wait until he finished.
"Let's do it now," he said, because he planned to head straight out to watch the action.
The University of Oregon men's coach — he of the famed 2001 court case that allowed the use of a golf cart on the PGA Tour and a celebrated U.S. Open entrant last month — was here to watch some of the country's top young players.
He wasn't alone. Coaches also came from Oregon State, Washington State, UC Davis, Boise State, Gonzaga and Marquette.
Martin adhered to NCAA rules and didn't talk specifically about any of the players in the field.
"I'm looking at a number of kids here," said the coach, who guided the Ducks to the semifinals of the NCAA championships last spring. "I'm just watching. I have been all summer and this is just one stop."
One player in the field, Ryan Grondlund, is interested in the Ducks and visited Eugene for a look around following the junior-amateur tournament Monday morning. I know this because he played in our group.
(It should be noted, our misguided swings didn't seem to adversely affect the 15-year-old from Pleasanton, Calif. He shot a tournament-best 66 in the second round and tied for second overall.)
AJGA events are popular with college coaches, for obvious reasons.
"The AJGA does a great job," said Martin. "They run these tournaments so well, they feel like tour events. Maybe not the galleries, but just how everything's run. And the kids that play here have an appreciation for competitive golf and how things should be done. The result is they get great fields wherever they go. This is where the kids want to be, so wherever they take a tournament, kids flock to it."
The AJGA's mission, in part, is to help kids enhance their opportunities to play in college. Coaches are well taken care of when they show up at such events.
"They treat us great," said Martin. "You'll always find at these tournaments coaches lurking behind trees because this is where the top talent is."
Sometimes coaches go to follow specific kids, other times they're simply looking to see who's playing well.
"It's kind of a mix," said Martin.
There are about 90 AJGA tournaments across the country each year. The organization announced just this week a new one that, perhaps more than any other, will facilitate opportunities.
It's a 36-hole event in Las Vegas in December for 72 boys who will graduate in 2013 and haven't signed with or committed to a college. It'll be held in conjunction with the Golf Coaches Association of America national convention.
Martin is no stranger to the Rogue Valley. He rode in a cart with the Ohio State golf coach two years ago at the AJGA event — the two schools had played each other in the Rose Bowl the January before — and he followed Rogue River's Kevin Murphy during the Southern Oregon Golf Championships last summer.
Murphy has since made a verbal commitment to Oregon State.
Martin also comes down for the Fitz Brewer Duffin' for the Ducks fundraising tournament at Rogue Valley Country Club.
MATT HEDGES GOT a good look at where he aspires to be.
The junior-to-be at Ashland High played in his first AJGA event this week at Centennial and fared quite well, meeting his goal of making the cut after two rounds and shooting three consistent scores in the mid-70s.
For good measure, he shot a 1-under-par 71 in the qualifying tournament on Sunday, earning a couple performance stars that will help him gain entry into future AJGA events.
"I've not been in any (tournaments) like that, that big of an event," said Hedges, 16, who recorded rounds of 75, 75 and 74 for an 8-over-par 224. "I felt like I played pretty good."
He tied for 38th place in a field of 111 in the Boys Division.
"I knew it was a strong field and I had to play well just to make the cut," said Hedges. "I wasn't very overwhelmed, but it definitely was an eye-opener. But I'm working hard and I know now what it takes to get to the next level of play."
Hedges practices regularly at Centennial and is friends with Rogue River's Kevin Murphy, who won the tournament by seven shots. Murphy was 13 under for three days.
"I knew that he was one of the top players in the field," said Hedges. "I've been practicing with him lately, so I kind of had an idea of the competition."
Hedges has been playing golf since age 7 and has been in Oregon Golf Association tournaments since he was 11.
The 6-foot-2, 165-pounder tied for ninth place this past spring in the Class 5A high school state championships. He missed going to state by one stroke as a freshman.
Hedges played football and basketball for the Grizzlies last year but has given up the former to focus on golf in hopes of obtaining a college scholarship.
In assessing his game, Hedges said he's worked especially hard on his putting — "That's what kept me rolling this week," he said — and his chipping. He hits the ball about average distance for his age and concentrates on managing himself around the course.
Hedges' next brush with the AJGA will be in a qualifier at Sunriver next month. He won't enter the tournament proper because his sister is expecting a child, and he'll be with family.
At the end of the summer, he'll enter the Southern Oregon Golf Championships, which has a minimum age requirement of 16.
"That'll be fun," he said. "I've always heard about it."
WHILE CENTENNIAL AJGA was a big deal for a lot of kids, you could excuse Simin Feng if she regarded it as just another tournament.
The 17-year-old from Orlando, Fla., by way of China, already has a long list of accomplishments. She's played in two LPGA tournaments, made the cut in a Ladies European Tour event at age 14, placed second in a Chinese women's pro tourney and was her country's top female amateur.
She tied for second place here, five shots behind winner Bethany Wu, of Diamond Bar, Calif. Feng had rounds of 69, 68 and 72 to finish 7 under.
The senior-to-be came west to play in an AJGA event in Pleasanton, Calif., the week before. She had five AJGA events to choose from this past week.
"I thought Oregon would be pretty nice for the summertime, so we just came up," she said.
She liked what she saw.
Feng has yet to decide on a college but has no shortage of suitors.
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