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Celebrity tournament proved to be a kick for all

Tee Talk

The hike sailed high and right, yet the All-Pro kicker deftly snapped it from the air as if it were a dawdling fly.

His pooch punt wobbled against a dark, cloud-filled sky, falling into the returner's arms.

But don't be fooled. This wasn't the Four Horsemen. It was the Five Hackers.

Despite a football theme and cold, wet weather that took a wrong turn en route to late fall, this was a golf tournament, the Chad Cota InfoStructure Celebrity Shootout Monday at Eagle Point Golf Course.

It proved to be a huge success, raising about &

36;33,000 for local youth programs ' Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Southern Oregon school athletics and Bulldog Boxing ' while attracting widespread community support and 61 teams.

— A couple of things did conspire against the effort, namely the weather and pace of play, but the former was an aberration that should take care of itself, and there are ways to improve the latter.

The bottom line is, a lot of things went right for an event that was pulled together in about four months.

We're real excited, said Cota, who played eight years in the NFL after starring at Ashland High and the University of Oregon. I think everything ran pretty smoothly, especially for the first year.

The celebrities ' Neil Lomax, Chris Miller, Mike Vanderjagt, Alex Molden, Pete Weber, Gorman Thomas, to name a few ' seemed to enjoy themselves, and many played in both the morning and afternoon rounds.

The had an entry that included the aforementioned place-kicker, Vanderjagt, who, while struggling a bit with his 6-handicap game, presented us a glimpse into the mind-set of a top-flight professional athlete.

At one point, it was down to him to make a medium-range putt, and someone remarked that the pressure wouldn't bother the game's best field-goal kicker.

With a football, he said, standing over the putt, no problem. But this is golf.

Still, he canned it.

Vanderjagt did get frustrated when things went poorly for him ' after all, he was perfect last season, going 37-for-37 on field goals and 46-for-46 on PATs ' and had little use for, shall we say, a less-than-positive approach.

But he also was open about a variety of topics: relationship with Peyton Manning, shark fishing off the Gulf Coast near his Florida home, the five times a day he's approached by fantasy football players (six by the time I was done), views on the other major sports, endorsement deals, even soccer, in which he was one cut away from making Canada's national team.

And who better to have kicking the ball than him on the par-5 16th hole? The deal was, one person snapped it, one person kicked it and three others fielded. If done flawlessly, we got to hit from the closer green tees; if not, we could pay &

36;5 for another attempt.

So it took us a couple tries.

People just had a ball with that for some reason, said Jim Winans, one of the organizers. It was kind of gimmicky.

Many teams wound up at the bottom of the hill off the tee, leaving easy shots to the green. In fact, Cota's morning team made double eagle from 176 yards. Michael Galleher, using a 5-wood and an orange ball, stuffed it.

Playing in the afternoon, we got the worst of the weather and the slow play.

When you're warm and enjoying yourself, you don't notice the pace of play so much, said Cota.

Twenty-five teams went off in the morning and 36 in the afternoon, a disparity that will be fixed next year. Perhaps 30 in each flight with only one group starting on each of the four par 3s and the par 5s people try to reach in two (No. 9 and 16, from the green tees anyway).

Other changes that could be in the offing, said Winans, are an auction of celebrities the night before, breakfast treats and a catered lunch and more celebrities.

There's a reason they call it a 'first annual,' said Kelly Rasmussen, another organizer. It was a solid tournament, and we are just as excited to step up the tournament next year.

IT'S NOT LIKELY

Gorman Thomas forgot to take a bat to the plate during his major league career as a slugging outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers.

But he did something akin to that in the Neil Lomax Quarterback Shootout, which preceded Cota's event.

Thomas, as usual, was paired with Medford's Marshall Holman in the two-man scramble at Heron Lakes Golf Course in Portland. On the first hole, they were on the green in two, both having hit wedges off of Thomas' tee shot.

It was on the stroll to the green that Thomas' caddie informed him of a problem: Thomas had left his putter on the practice green.

Thomas is the better putter of the two, so Holman usually putts first to show him the line. However, with no time to retrieve his putter, Thomas wielded a wedge and putted first at the 18-footer below the hole, figuring to show Holman the line.

He drains it, says Holman, of the birdie. When he did that, it really made me feel like this could be a really good day. We could win this.

The pair has finished in the top three or four in recent years, but a departure from that was not to be. They parred the next five holes, unable to get any putts to fall even with Thomas brandishing a putter.

Their next birdie, and the only other on the front side, didn't come until Holman holed a shot at No. 7 ' with a sand wedge from off the green.

The team wound up 5 under and tied for third with Mark Rypien and Eric Dickerson. Earl Morrall and Steve Bartkowski won at 8 under, followed by Jan Stenerud and Truck Robinson at 6 under.

Cota and Vanderjagt tied for last place with Charles Barkley and Roy Green at — over.

GLEN CLARK, one of the area's top amateurs, joined Holman, Thomas and Weber for golf at Rogue Valley Country Club Tuesday. The group played 36 holes.

Clark has caddied for Holman, the Hall of Fame bowler, in Celebrity Player Tour events and had played golf with Thomas before.

He's pretty amazing, says Clark. I had not seen him for five years, and the first thing he did was give me a big hug. He's a huge man. You don't expect something like that. It was pretty cool.

A fun time was had by all. Weber and Thomas both strike the ball well, and there weren't many wagers they shied away from.

Marshall and I are pretty calm or subdued compared to those guys, says Clark. They've got &

36;20 and &

36;30 Nassaus going and &

36;20 up-and-downs. I'm not sure Gorman doesn't miss greens on purpose just so he gets the up-and-downs on Pete Weber.

It's amazing. A lot of those guys are just like you and I, it's just that their jobs are entertainment that you and I enjoy watching.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail