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Ex-pros add new game to repertoire

Commentary

It's not that they didn't want to play in the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament, something always got in the way.

For Jonathan Stark, it was the U.S. Open tennis championships.

For Jeff Barry, it was big league baseball, or a close facsimile thereof.

Ditto for Scott Lewis.

But with retirement from professional athletics ' Stark and Barry recently, Lewis a few years ago ' came the opportunity for some of Medford's former high school stars to do something most had long thought about: tee it up for the weeklong extravaganza at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Stark and Barry are playing for the first time this year. Lewis is at it for only the third time.

My brother and I used to come up and do the caddie school and all that, says Stark, referring to Ted, whom he followed around the course for a while Friday morning during a match against none other than Barry. I definitely can remember as a kid growing up and coming out to watch and it being a lot of fun.

That ended when he began playing in the U.S. Open, first as a junior standout, then as an 11-year member of the ATP Tour.

Jonathan Stark, 31, retired from the pro circuit in January following the Australian Open. He and wife Dana have a 3-year-old son, Charlie.

With all the travel and things like that, he says, I just decided I'd had enough. We were starting a family, and I wanted to be home. I'm real happy with my decision.

Tennis certainly was good to Stark, who now lives in Seattle. He won two singles titles, 19 doubles crowns and more than &

36;3.2 million in prize money.

But now he's exploring opportunities in youth development for tennis.

I'd like to stay involved with tennis, says Stark. Junior tennis in the U.S. hasn't been able to keep up with some of the other strong countries, and I find that interesting.

In the meantime, he'll play a little more golf.

Stark, in his first golf tournament of any kind, shot an 87 in qualifying, won a match Thursday and lost 1-up to Travis Boersma Friday.

There is a distinct difference in Stark's tennis and golf.

I've hit so many tennis balls that when I miss one, I know what happened, he says. When I do it in golf, I have no idea what happened.

Which is one reason why, when asked if it's unfair for otherwise regular Joes to compete against a world-class athlete, he responds emphatically, No way!

Both Lewis and Barry agree that having performed before tens of thousands of fans can be helpful.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, says Barry, who lives in Medford, it comes down to the nerves and how you handle it. Some people can handle it, some people can't.

Barry, whose 12-year pro career ended in May, provided a prime example of competitive nature in his match against Ted Stark. Down six holes with six to play, he won four straight.

They halved the 17th, however, giving Stark a 2 and — victory.

I could have been done on 13, but I said, 'Hey, Ted, I'm coming after you,' says Barry, who, like the Starks, was around the tournament as a youngster and couldn't wait to play in it. Lo and behold, I did.

Lewis was largely disinterested in golf other than to go watch friends such as Tommy Smith and Bruce Mullen play. It wasn't until 1992 that he took up the game because a lot of his Angels teammates played.

A professional pitcher from 1988-98, including five peak years with the Angels when he appeared in 74 games and started 19, Lewis has turned into a solid golfer.

He shot 76 in qualifying and carries a 3.1 handicap index.

Lewis, a resident of Newport Beach, Calif., was lured to the game by the likes of Bert Blyleven and Kirk McCaskill.

We had some great golfers on our team, he says.

Lewis didn't start out as one of them.

I tried it, he says, and when I realized how hard it is, the competitor in me took over. I wasn't going to let something beat me like that.

Leading up to the Southern Oregon, he called Barry periodically to chat about golf. One of the things he mentioned was the advantage the former pro athletes should have when it comes to playing in front of spectators.

Talking and movement around greens is relatively minor compared to row after row of unruly fans. But on Friday, it was the putter that got to Lewis, who otherwise was pleased with his play.

I had a hard time reading the breaks, he said after a — and 2 loss to Brent Orrico. I was overreading them and underreading them. You've got to make your putts; just like in my past career, you had to make your pitches.

With other careers behind them, this could become one.

I guarantee you, says Barry, I'll be in it for the next 30 years.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail