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Smith gears up for title defense

It's better to be lucky than good at the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament.

That's the advice two-time defending champ Tommy Smith has for those teeing off today in local qualifying at Rogue Valley Country Club.

"In match play, you just don't know," says Smith, who won his first of three SOGT titles in 1989. "It's all about playing day-by-day, but it probably takes a lot more luck than anything else."

Out-of-town qualifying for the 64-man championship flight is Wednesday, with match play running Thursday through Monday.

Qualifying for all women is also Wednesday.

While the 33-year-old Smith has to be favored for his third straight title, he by no means is taking that status for granted.

"I don't think it's ever been done and there's probably a good reason for that," he says of three straight men's championships.

The main factor, Smith believes, is in the strength of the men's field each year.

That lineup stands to be loaded once again, with former SOGT champs Brooks Newsom, Brad Bills, Doug Olson, Kelly Owen, Kevin Klabunde and Bob Cox leading the charge.

Also expected to challenge are last year's runner-up Jimmy White of Eugene and local mainstays Ian Parent, Bret Breeze, Glen Clark, Justin Wise, Scott Tuttle, Jay Klemp, Todd Couch and Kelly Rasmussen.

"I think we're going to have a good field, as we always do," says Smith.

As the defending champ, Smith is automatically put in the 64-man field, with about 160 others attempting to crack the championship bracket. The medalist from the two days of men's qualifying will be slotted on the opposite end of the bracket from Smith, with the remaining 62 spots determined by scores from local and out-of-town qualifiers.

To hear Smith talk of all the potential threats to his crown, he'd just as soon have everyone on the other side of the bracket.

"Brooks Newsom is always tough because he's just so consistent," says Smith. "Scott Tuttle doesn't play as much but he's probably, talent-wise, the best player around here. Kevin Klabunde and Glen Clark always play well. Bret Breeze, Mark DeBoer, Jay Klemp, the list just goes on and on of who could win this thing."

Smith, who plays sparingly throughout the year, had those rounds pared down even more this year thanks to work and family commitments. As of Monday evening, he was busy trying to sharpen his game by getting in as many holes as possible prior to Thursday's opener.

"With my game, it's all putting," he says. "Typically I hit the ball about the same all the time. It's just a matter of making some putts."

And with about 20 years of experience at RVCC, there aren't many putting lines Smith hasn't seen.

"I've just grown up on this golf course," Smith says. "As it gets harder and faster, it definitely plays into my hands as far as from a length standpoint and knowing the bounces out there."

The mental aspect of the tournament, however, can be just as vital to success.

"Typically, you're going to have one or two bad rounds," says Smith. "It's just a matter of getting back on track as quick as you can and playing better than the other guy.

"The key is really being able to play the golf course and play your opponent at the same time. You have to be able to turn it off and on."

Billed as the largest tournament of its kind west of the Mississippi, the 72nd SOGT features about 420 contestants in fields broken down in men's and women's divisions, as well as senior men's and women's divisions and a junior-senior men's division.

Amanda Nealy is the defending women's champion, with former champions Reena Eklund, Bunny Casey and Heather Holte expected to challenge for the title. Other top local threats include Carmen Akins and Nealy's sisters, Josie and Johnna.

Senior men's champion Bob Harrell returns in pursuit of his fifth championship - and fourth in five years. Harrell, 65, recently stormed to the City Championship title at Cedar Links, carding a first-round 63 to break from the pack.

"He's on a roll, that's for sure," says Jim Wise, head golf professional at RVCC.

Harrell's main competition stands to come from last year's runner-up, John Dunkin.

Pam Hubbard will be in search of her fourth straight senior women's title, while a stellar field awaits three-time junior-senior champion Doug Ward.

Former champs Dave Boals Jr., George Mack Sr. and Mark Binegar highlight the junior-senior field, with locals Jerry Eklund, Terry Anderson and Greg Miller looming as threats.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail