Heading into the 88th Southern Oregon Golf Championships, the odds were pretty good there would be a first-time champion in the men’s regular championship flight.
Longtime SOGC contender Jimmy White made sure of that on Sunday when he ousted the only person capable of threatening that scenario in 2015 champion Chris Polski, 5 and 4, and set up what could be a very special Monday for a couple players very familiar to the Rogue Valley Country Club scene.
With Joey Walker, a 2013 North Medford High graduate, making it through the other side of the bracket with a 4-and-3 triumph over Houston Knox, there will be a decidedly Medford feel to Monday’s 36-hole final that begins at 9:20 a.m. and continues with the scheduled second 18 holes at 2:50 p.m.
“It’s special,” the left-handed Walker said of reaching his first SOGC men’s regular final. “This tournament kind of hits deep with me. It’s probably my favorite thing to play in. I’ve felt like I’ve belonged the last couple years and it just hasn’t worked out but this week and this year it’s all just come together.”
In his own right, White may be in contention for one of the best SOGC players to have never finished on top. He finished as runner-up in 2000 to Tommy Smith in a match that went to the wire and was only inches from being extended to extra holes, and was runner-up again in 2005 when Brodie Sullivan snaked in an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to earn a 1-up victory.
“I’ve been there twice before so I’m ready to do it,” said White of his finals opportunity. “I’ve played in a lot of golf tournaments so I feel like I’m ready and I’m just trying to stay with it and keep it going.”
“Joey’s really solid,” he added. “It will be a good match tomorrow. I’ll definitely have to keep playing good.”
In another key championship semifinal Sunday, Aubrie Street earned a repeat trip to the women’s regular final with a 4-and-3 win over two-time champion Kelly Loeb and will face Eagle Point’s Leslie Gainey, who won 3 and 2 over Marla Parmele, in a 36-hole final at 9:10 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. Monday.
In the men’s junior-senior championship flight, defending champion Steve Taormino put himself in position for a third title in four years by edging Todd Dixon on the 19th hole. Taormino will face Ryan Hawkins, who won 7 and 6 over Ty Kohler, in a 36-hole final at 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
In senior men’s action, two-time defending champion Kevin Klabunde won 2 and 1 over Brent Barr and will face 2014 champion Glen Clark, who won 3 and 2 over Bob Dickey, at 2:10 p.m. in an 18-hole final.
Monday’s 18-hole senior women’s final will pit defending champion Sandy Day against Shelly Lehrkind at 2:20 p.m. Lehrkind won 4 and 3 over Carolyn Turner on Sunday and Day topped 2014 champion LaVone Kirkwood, 5 and 3.
White set the SOGC qualifying record of 60 in 2014 but has routinely had his championship bids turned back by eventual champions or those scoring improbable shots in more recent runs at RVCC.
On Sunday, White birdied his first four holes to build a comfortable edge over Polski and never waned in closing out the former champion.
“It always feels good to play well,” said White, who was 4 under at the turn. “Polski’s a really good player so I knew I was going to have to have my best. I just tried to keep pressure on him all day and I was able to do that. I told him when I got done, ‘Thanks for being nice to me,’ because he definitely didn’t play the way he normally plays I don’t think.”
Polski dropped in a sensational birdie putt on the ninth hole from the top of the green to cut his deficit to 3 down but White was undeterred and left little room for his counterpart to get any closer from that point.
“I figured he’d make a run at some point, and he made a nice putt on No. 9 and another good putt on No. 11,” said White, “and fortunately I was able to match him on 11 there to tie and keep putting holes on him. I figured if we ran out of holes then I’d be fine with that.”
Their matchup eventually wrapped up on the 14th hole, and Walker was able to do the same one hole later in his matchup with Knox that was led wire to wire after he was able to birdie the first hole and use two straight pars to win holes and build an early cushion.
“It was just very steady,” said Walker of his semifinal round. “I think that’s what I’ve been doing all week is not really give my opponent many opportunities to get one on me. I had more birdies than I did yesterday but everything was just very, very steady.”
If there has been a difference in his play, Walker said it’s just in his general composure. He said he’s definitely felt more composed this week and that has helped carry him through any wayward shot or bad break.
Composure was one of the things Gainey was barely able to display Sunday after closing her match on the 16th hole against Parmele. An admittedly emotional person in any circumstance, the act of being able to reach the women’s regular championship final had her fighting of tears of joy.
“It’s everything to me,” said Gainey, who historically has been bumped to the first flight after qualifying in the championship tier. “I coach out at Eagle Point and I put a lot on my girls to perform or reach a certain level and if I don’t ask that of myself then it’s not right.”
“I love the competition, I love the camaraderie and the sportsmanship here,” she added. “It’s just a positive thing, you give good and you get good back. I’ve worked really hard to come out and play with these ladies so it’s like something you wish for but then when you get it, it’s scary.”
Gainey and Parmele waged a good back-and-forth battle where neither was at their best but they battled through. A key moment came on the par-3 15th hole when both players hit the green but it was Parmele who nuzzled her birdie putt up close to the hole and Gainey came up well short. The chance at potentially winning the hole with a close-range par for Parmele went up in smoke, however, when Gainey rolled in a 10-footer for par to essentially negate the advantage.
“I could not get it through my brain that the greens were slower today,” said Gainey, “so I kept saying, ‘Put a good stroke on it,’ and I would come up 10-feet short and then I’d have to sink the 10-footer. I’d like to put them a little bit closer tomorrow because I know Aubrie’s a good player and I know I’m in for it, I’m just excited for the challenge.”
Gainey credited a putting lesson from Grants Pass Golf Club head professional Jeff Ott for helping her make a breakout performance in this year’ SOGC.
For Street, a date in Monday’s final offers her a chance at redemption after making it to last year’s women’s regular final but coming up short in a 6-and-4 loss to Daniele Giles.
Much like White’s round on Sunday, Street stormed out to an early lead with strong play that resulted in a 3-up lead at the turn. Wins on hole Nos. 10, 11 and 12 eventually allowed Street to go 5 up on Loeb, who has been a fixture in the SOGC title chase over the years and was no easy out thereafter until finally running out of steam on the 15th.
“We had a good match today,” said Street. “I think we all wish we could’ve played a little bit better but it’s kind of tough out here in all the heat and smoke so hopefully tomorrow will be a little better.”
“I really struggled coming in there today so that was a little rough,” she added, “but I’m hoping tomorrow I can kind of channel my first nine instead of my back nine and play well.”
Sunday marked the continuation of the smokiest conditions the SOGC has seen in its time, with air quality levels nearing the 280 level (hazardous starts at 300).
“The smoke is a little bit of a different challenge,” said Street, who starred at St. Mary’s High but lives in Atlanta these days. “It’s not really impeding play necessarily but it’s just a little bit different playing in it. I knew it was smoky coming in but I didn’t know it was going to be this smoky.”
MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT
Jimmy White def. Chris Polski 5 & 4, Joey Walker def. Houston Knox 4 & 3
MEN’S FIRST FLIGHT
Will Street def. Gerry Snyder 2 & 1, Ryan Whittaker def. David Croft 4 & 2
MEN’S SECOND FLIGHT
Michael Green def. Joshua Pean 7 & 6, Alec Williamson def. Scott Weiland 3 & 2
MEN’S THIRD FLIGHT
Cody Stover def. Eric Boucher 4 & 3, Mark McUne def. Eric Engelbach 1 up
MEN’S FOURTH FLIGHT
Jacob Gooding def. Nick Nieto 1 up, Jason Caplan def. Chase Schumacher 1 up
MEN’S FIFTH FLIGHT
Justin Hanlin def. Chad Day 3 & 1, Dustin Wallace def. Ian Norgan 1 up
MEN’S SIXTH FLIGHT
Collin Krueger def. Isaac Wecker 5 & 4, Eric Linerud def. Shawn Shumate 1 up
MEN’S SEVENTH FLIGHT
Stephen Odell def. Chris Williams 10 & 8, Jeremy Ross def. Scott Mettler 2 & 1
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT
Steve Taormino def. Todd Dixon 19th, Ryan Hawkins def. Ty Kohler 7 & 6
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT
Todd Couch def. Justin Azevedo 20th , Mark Mullaney def. Rob Neff 1 up
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT
Andy Baida def. Phillip Heiner 4 & 3, Ted Stark def. Mike Stavish 1 up
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT
Joe Arnesen def. Billy Burke 1 up, Joe Mahar def. Ralph Wallis 1 up
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT
Rick Jackson def. Greg Jacobs 2 & 1, Keith Lallo def. Jonathan Stark 1 up
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT
Benny Shapiro def. Ken Lindbloom 6 & 4, Dennis Richards def. Ron Stranahan 4 & 3
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT
Tom Jones def. Daryn Clark 2 & 1, Jack Lewis def. Jad Dickson 1 up
MEN’S JUNIOR-SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT
Michael Diehl def. James Figueroa 1 up, Milo Smith def. Jason Miller 1 up
MEN’S SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT
Kevin Klabunde def. Brent Barr 2 & 1, Glen Clark def. Bob Dickey 3 & 2
MEN’S SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT
Bret Mackay def. Bob Cox 1 up, Marshall Holman def. Brad Bills 1 up
MEN’S SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT
Eric Austad def. Paul Reynolds 7 & 6, Kim Cushing def. Vaughn Schneider 5 & 3,
MEN’S SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT
Jim Smith def. Kelly Brown 2 up, Gary Sterton def. Jim Multerer 1 up,
MEN’S SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT
Joel Jessel def. Jerry Johnson 1 up, Dave Allen def. Michael Donnally 1 up
MEN’S SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT
Brian Odell def. John Buda 4 & 3, John Lawton def. Don Pinkham 1 up
MEN’S SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT
Neill Smith def. Tony Nieto 3 & 1, David Street def. Rich Mettler 3 & 2
MEN’S SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT
Bruce Mendelson def. Bill Allen 5 & 4, Rick McCabe def. John Root 1 up
MEN’S SENIOR EIGHTH FLIGHT
Evan McArthur def. Tom Groves 1 up, Michael Moylan def. Christian Carrigan 7 & 5
MEN’S SENIOR NINTH FLIGHT
Scott Lubich def. Daniel Davis 1 up, Kevin Aguirre def. Keith Rogers 1 up
MEN’S SUPER-SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT
Patrick Daggitt def. Richard Brekke 2 & 1, Gordon Empey def. Stan Sherer 2 & 1
MEN’S SUPER SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT
Dodd Samuel def. Jim McCabe 1 up, Tom Hamlin def. Dick Entinger 1 up
MEN’S SUPER-SENIOR EIGHTH FLIGHT
Conrad Caprez def. Dan Kosmatka 5 & 3, John Jensen def. Rodger Campuzano 2 up
MEN’S SUPER-SENIOR NINTH FLIGHT
David Runyon def. Michael Confer 3 & 2, Jim Barry def. Michael Trovato 1 up
WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT
Aubrie Street def. Kelly Loeb 4 & 3, Leslie Gainey def. Marla Parmele 3 & 2
WOMEN’S FIRST FLIGHT
Genna Mettler def. Tracie Armitage 1 up, Toni Watkins def. Toni Doolen 1 up
WOMEN’S SECOND FLIGHT
Melinda Heiner def. Michele Orrico 19th, Susie Hammett def. Laura Rommes 2 & 1
WOMEN’S THIRD FLIGHT
Ashley Snowden def. Bridgitte Griffin-Azevedo 1 up, Kirsten Reed def. Colleen Holbert 1 up
WOMEN’S SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT
Sandy Day def. LaVone Kirkwood 5 & 3, Shelley Lehrkind def. Carolyn Turner 4 & 3
WOMEN’S SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT
Tina Blum def. Marianne Metzger 3 & 2, Annette VanDaam def. Bogey Loyd 2 & 1
WOMEN’S SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT
Maureen McFaddin def. Janet Stark 5 & 4, LeeAnn Loftin def. Susan Stringer 19th
WOMEN’S SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT
Nancy Gish def. Dana McIntosh 3 & 2, Barb Reed def. Nancy Cotton 1 up
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry