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SOGC finalists wouldn't mind rematch

Even if Daniel Engle wanted to forget his defeat in the Southern Oregon Golf Championships last year, he couldn't.

Casey King wouldn't let him.

The two teenagers battled for the men's division title, with King, then 19 and from Blue River, prevailing 4 and 3 at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Soon after, both players enrolled at Oregon State University and were practicing regularly as members of the Beavers' golf team.

"I gave him crap about it all the time," laughs King, who will be a junior. "He just said, 'Wait 'til next year.'"

Well, next year is here, and Engle, 19, who will be a sophomore, would enjoy another crack at King.

Engle remembers those barbs.

"It was pretty funny," says the Talent resident, recalling practices. "If I beat him in nine holes or whatever, he'd say, 'It's fine, I'll just come down there and beat you again.'"

The two will be among the leading contenders in the men's field, and there will be lots of action elsewhere. There are six divisions, one more than before with the addition of super senior men. Other men's divisions are the junior-senior and senior, while the women have a regular division and a senior division.

Play begins today with local men's qualifying. On Wednesday, there's qualifying for women and out-of-town men.

Match plays starts Thursday and continues through Monday's championship rounds for all flights.

The tournament, the largest single-site match-play event in the U.S., is being held for the 81st year.

In addition to King, defending champions Kevin Klabunde — who made history with his senior victory a year ago — and Bogey Loyd (senior women's) will return.

However, junior-senior champion Brad Bills and women's titlist Stephanie Johns won't be back. Bills suffered a broken wrist in a river accident, and Johns, a recent graduate of Portland State, is out of the area.

Another fixture, Bob Harrell, who is second all-time with six senior championships, will miss the tournament for the first time in more than 40 years because of health reasons. Ed Godden has the record of seven titles; his last victory was in 1990.

King, whose father, Dan, is the head pro at Tokatee Golf Club, knew nothing of the tournament until friends encouraged him to enter.

"It was really fun the whole time I was there," he says. "I don't get to play a lot of match-play tournaments, so that was a fun little experience. And I like the course. I got to play it for five days, so I got my money's worth."

At Oregon State this past year, he didn't make the traveling team in any fall events but did so three times in the spring. His scoring average was slightly above 74.

"It was decent," he says of his play. "I was right on the edge. I never really got my game to where I wanted it to be. I was close to breaking through all year long. Hopefully I can build on that and have a better year next year."

His best showing was in the Oregon Duck Invitational at Shadow Hills Country Club, where he was tied for the lead with a first-round 70 and ended up 13th.

Engle was a redshirt freshman this past year and hopes to have an impact in 2010-11.

But first, there's the SOGC. This is the third time the former Phoenix High star has entered.

"I feel more comfortable now that I've played it a little bit," he says. "Growing up, I caddied for my dad, and I was seeing all these older players and young college players. At one time, there were a lot of Oregon players. It was kind of intimidating at first, but now I realize that no matter where you play in college or how old you are, anyone can win."

Mike Barry tried to become the first to win three consecutive men's titles last year, but he was derailed by a 1-down quarterfinal loss to Engle.

Barry, who shot 11 under par for two days in winning the city championship last weekend at Centennial Golf Club, returns, as do Brooks Newsom and Doug Olson, each trying to be the first four-time men's champion.

Tommy Smith, another three-time men's winner, is now in the junior-senior division.

On the youngsters' front, Kevin Murphy, of Rogue River, who at 16 is just old enough to enter, will bring his handicap of plus 1 into the mix. So, too, will Cody Stoffel, 16, of Grants Pass. His index is 1.0.

Last year, Klabunde became only the third player in history to win titles in the men's, junior-senior and senior divisions. He downed Chris Littleton, 2 and 1. Littleton also returns.

With Bills unable to play and the player he defeated, Jerry Eklund, moving to the senior men's, the junior-senior division will have new finalists.

Last year's women's runner-up, Trina Jones, the winner in 2008, is back, as is former two-time champion Amanda Nealy.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Casey King hits out of a bunker during last year’s SOGC triumph. - Jamie Lusch