Ducks on course
Only once in seven years has Oregon head football coach Mark Helfrich missed the Fitz Brewer Duffin’ Fore the Ducks golf tournament, held annually at Rogue Valley Country Club.
That was 2014, when he had his hip replaced and could not attend the 29th edition.
The former Southern Oregon University quarterback has fun coming back to the place where his father Mike was once a member and where people stop to catch up with him rather than ask for an autograph. His lone absence in June of last year was a bummer, Helfrich said, but it came with a silver lining … for someone else.
“Somebody had a better partner,” he said with a laugh on Friday afternoon at the 30th annual event.
The tournament — which brought out some big coaching names — is named after the late Fitzhugh Brewer, who built a life in Medford as a businessman, star athlete and community leader. He died of cancer at the age of 78 in October 2009.
The Duck-loving event has helped raise around $500,000 for the UO, said Dave Schott, an Oregon Club of Southern Oregon board member. Schott has been heavily involved since the beginning.
“We just want all the Ducks down here and anybody who supports the Ducks to have a good experience,” said Schott, who graduated from Medford High in 1965.
This year’s tournament featured a showing of Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy. University representatives from just about every athletic program were on hand, including originals like former Ducks football coach Rich Brooks and Steve Holwerda, his son-in-law. Brooks was in charge of the football program at Oregon when the tournament kicked off.
As the hot day drifted by at the club on Friday, words of humility were spoken early and often by both Helfrich and another Duck leader — men’s head basketball coach Dana Altman — when the topic of golf arose.
“My game needs a lot of work, that’s for sure,” Altman said.
Oregon head men’s golf coach Casey Martin wasn’t buying his friends’ evaluations though.
“They’re shorting themselves a bit,” Martin said during a break from warming up. “They are both good athletes. Dana and (Oregon assistant) Kevin McKenna play a fair amount and do well at it. Mark doesn’t play that much, but he certainly has the talent to play.”
Helfrich was born in Medford and grew up in Coos Bay, where he recalled playing golf as early as age 7 at Coos Country Club. Those memories are fond, as is the time he once played in the driving rain at Pebble Beach.
His first appearance in the Rogue Valley tournament was in 2009, when he was named offensive coordinator in Eugene.
With an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter and endless responsibilities at UO now, Helfrich’s golf opportunities are rare.
“I’ve got a lot of great memories and, in my case, a lot of bad golf,” jokes Helfrich, who will be the featured speaker at Southern Oregon University's graduation ceremony today.
Whatever positive that happens on the links during the day is a bonus, Helfrich adds.
“It’s all about the people,” he said. “The people at this event are just awesome. As a department we don’t get down here enough, so it’s almost a one-shot deal to come down and say thank you.”
Altman and Martin shared a similar appreciation for the area and its people.
“It’s always a big event with E.J. (Singler) being such a big part of our start and Josh Jamieson being such a big part of our staff,” Altman said. “This one is always special because those guys were coming home.”
Singler was a four-year hoops standout for the Ducks, and Jamieson is director of men’s basketball operations. Both are from Medford.
Altman, who’s from Nebraska, has enjoyed being in Oregon, whether he is at his home in Eugene or traveling to meet fans.
“The climate is definitely better,” said Altman, who was the head coach at Creighton for 16 years before becoming a Duck in 2010. “The winters are much milder and much better. It’s been a great five years and people have been great to us.”
Oregon supporters in the Rogue Valley are a dedicated bunch, said Martin, the former PGA Tour pro.
“The people who live down here sacrifice a lot to be a Ducks fan because they have a long way to drive, and so we appreciate them,” he said. “We’re happy to be down here to get to know them a little better.”
Martin made it to sectional qualifying in the U.S. Open and needed a top-three finish in Cle Elum, Wash., on Monday, but he placed ninth.
“I am around the game a lot with my guys but I don’t do a lot of hardcore practice sessions and don’t play that many rounds of golf,” said Martin, who just completed his ninth season as UO coach. “I don’t have any excuses. I still play when I can but it’s not like the old days.”
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt