OSU star to play in city tourney
It'll be status quo for the city golf championships this weekend: An Oregon State University player will be favored.
Which Beaver? Well, therein lies the intrigue.
It's not Medford's Mike Barry, who is usually favored in local tournaments.
It's not Talent's Daniel Engle, the defending champion of the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships.
Rather, it's the recently graduated OSU player who was ranked No. 1 in the NCAA this past year, who finished fourth in the NCAA championships — while bettering a course record previously held by Tiger Woods — and who set the all-time Beaver season scoring record by more than a full stroke.
Diego Velasquez's resume has more impressive feats than a driving range has balls, and the Bogota, Colombia, native — who counts among his friends countryman and PGA star Camilo Villegas — will try to add to it when he comes to Medford.
The 36-hole event is Saturday and Sunday at Centennial Golf Club.
"He's the best player I've ever seen," says Engle, a redshirt freshman at OSU this past year who practiced regularly with Velasquez.
Velasquez and Barry, also a recent graduate, were the Nos. 1 and 2 players for the Beavers, helping them to 16th place in the NCAAs. The two became fast friends, and Velasquez spent last Thanksgiving here with Barry.
Velasquez wanted to visit again, but a busy summer of professional and high-level amateur tournaments prevented it. When the calendar cleared this weekend, Barry invited him to play in the city tournament.
It's an open tournament, so any amateur is eligible to enter.
"I told (Velasquez) he doesn't have a good golf resume until he's won the city championship down in Medford, Ore.," says Barry.
Barry doesn't have that particular title, either, having been edged out the past couple years by Kevin Klabunde and Engle, each time just days after Barry competed in the U.S. Amateur.
"I thought about that after I invited him and had second thoughts," Barry says with a laugh, "because I've never won the city championship. But we'll have a really good time, and I'm hoping we play together on Sunday."
Barry, Engle and Velasquez will be in the next-to-last group Saturday, starting at 1:50 p.m. For those who want to watch, just look for lots of orange and black.
Sunday's pairings will depend on first-round scores, with the leaders going off at about 2 p.m.
In addition to Engle, defending champions Jim Hoffman in the senior men's and Jon Paauwe in the super senior men's return. Three-time women's champion Stephanie Johns is not entered.
Velasquez pooh-poohed the notion he'll come to the Rogue Valley and beat up on his buddies.
"No, I'm not gonna do that," he says. "I have no idea how it's going to go. I was just supposed to go down and hang out with Mike and his wife and his kid. He told me about the tournament and I said, sure, I'll play in it."
Velasquez has had a "busy, tiring summer," but a successful one, too.
He shot 66 in the final round of the NCAAs at the The Honors Course in Chattanooga, Tenn. That tied the course record set earlier in the tournament by Oregon's Jack Dukeminier, among others. Woods had the record of 67.
Velasquez played in a half-dozen summer events. Most were amateur invitational, but he also competed in a couple pro tourneys as an amateur. At a Nationwide Tour event in Columbus, Ohio, he missed the cut. But in a Latin America tour event in Colombia, he tied for fourth place at 17 under par and couldn't accept the $25,000 in earnings that would have gone with it.
"It was a course I knew and I was pretty pumped," he says. "It was back home and I had a lot of support from friends and family. It was good."
Velasquez grew up in Bogota but also lived in England and Texas while his father, a real estate developer, worked on projects. He wanted to play collegiately in the U.S., and he and the Beavers hooked up only after former OSU player Eric Fiskum happened to be paired with Velasquez in two Colombian tournaments.
Velasquez and then-Beaver coach Brian Watts traded e-mails, and on his recruiting trip to Corvallis, the player fell in love with the campus and the town.
Velasquez's most prominent performance this past year was in October, when he recorded his third career win, taking the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate by a whopping seven shots. Among those well back in second place was 2009 NCAA champ Matt Hill of North Carolina State.
Velasquez's next big adventure will be PGA Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
At the risk of sounding boastful, Velasquez says he and Barry were the leading factors in the Beavers' first trip to the NCAAs since 2001.
"We went at it every day together and pushed ourselves really, really hard," he says.
Velasquez's record scoring average was 70.31, breaking the record of 71.33. Barry finished with a 71.95 mark, the fifth best season average in OSU history.
Barry returned home this summer and works full time. He hasn't played a great deal, and keeping up with Velasquez, who at 5-foot-7 is a prodigious hitter, could be a tall order.
"I don't know if there's a weakness," says Barry. "He's dead straight off the tee, and for as small as he is, he hits it a mile. His short game is like I've never seen before. It's hard to find a weakness."
Engle, who works at Centennial, is rusty from competition because of his redshirt season. After placing second in the Southern Oregon Golf Championships last Labor Day, it wasn't until May 30 that he competed in another tournament.
"That took a toll on my game," he says. "It's been a little stagnant, but I practiced and played with the other guys (at OSU) and I learned a lot there."
He's played in three tourneys this summer with mixed results and has practiced or played almost every day.
As for Velasquez's presence? Engle is all for it.
"Any time you play with a player like that, it makes you better," he says. "It's awesome for Centennial and the city tournament to get a couple players like Mike and Diego."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org