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GOLF: City, SOGC tourneys on tap

Something old, something new.

That’s what’s in store for the Southern Oregon Golf Championships as the summer winds down in a smoky haze with two of the area’s top tournaments: the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships and the SOGC.

The stroke-play tourney, also regarded as the city championships, is Saturday and Sunday at Centennial Golf Club.

The 89th edition of the Southern Oregon, with nearly 400 entrants, follows at Rogue Valley Country Club. Qualifying rounds are Tuesday and Wednesday, and match play begins Thursday. Championship matches in all divisions are on Labor Day.

The venerable SOGC, the largest single-site match-play tournament in the country, will get a makeover this year.

Something old? The tournament is adding a men’s legendary division for players 75 and older.

Something new? The heretofore strictly amateur event will introduce a professional flight of eight players. Most of the entrants will be club pros from Roseburg south, said RVCC head professional Tracy Snyder.

One exception is Kevin Murphy, a three-time men’s regular winner who turned pro after graduating from Oregon State in 2017. Rogue River native Murphy gave the Dakotas mini tour a brief try before returning to the Rogue Valley to go into real estate.

There’s been a bit of interest in recent years about attracting professionals, said Snyder, who is mindful to not upend the amateur status of the long-running event.

The pros initially were to play for a trophy, but a sponsor stepped forward to provide a cash incentive. The winner will get $500, second place $300 and third place $200.

“I think if we’re able to build on it, there will be a little interest and it will help the crowds out,” said Snyder. “One of my big concerns is, it’s always been an amateur event, and I didn’t want to take anything away from that. It’s always been a pretty special match-play event. It’s (pro flight) kind of a tournament within a tournament.”

In addition to piquing interest on site, the visiting pros may well promote the SOGC through word of mouth when they return to their clubs, said Snyder.

The pros will play qualifying rounds either Tuesday (local men) or Wednesday (women and out-of-town players), then will be seeded and begin match play on Saturday.

The legendary group was created in an effort to keep longtime players involved. It started as an eight-player flight, grew to 16 and now has a waiting list.

George Mack, who has won all four men’s divisions and has a record 13 titles overall, last year claimed the super senior (65-older). He heads the list of legendary entrants and will try to add a fifth division to his resume. Bob Harrell, a six-time senior winner, is also in the new division.

“For those who have won their share, it’s hard to not be able to go out and compete,” said Snyder. “They’ll be able to compete in this one.”

That division is one reason there are 27 former champions in the SOGC, including seven in what appears to be a loaded women’s division.

Snyder hopes to have a field of 392 players by the time registration closes. Air quality has played a part in lagging sign-ups, particularly in the men’s senior division, he said.

Sign-ups will be taken through Saturday. Those interested should call the RVCC pro shop at 541-772-4050.

A notable absence from the men’s regular is Jimmy White, who could not work the tournament into his schedule, said Snyder. White won his first SOGC title last year in dominating fashion, beating Joey Walker 11 and 10 in the 36-hole final.

Among the leading contenders in the men’s regular are Mike Barry, who missed the tournament last year, and Chris Polski.

Barry, a former North Medford state champion and Oregon State player who lives in Eugene, is one of only three players with four men’s regular titles. The others were Eddie Simmons (six) and Dick Hanen (four); the last of their titles was by Simmons in 1949.

Barry’s most recent championship was in 2014, when he defeated Murphy in an epic showdown with a 66-foot eagle putt on the first playoff hole. Barry was runner-up in 2016.

Polski, a former professional player, triumphed in 2015.

In the women’s division, Aubrie Street is the returning champion in what might be the most competitive group, said Snyder.

Two Nealy sisters — former champs Amanda and Johnna — are back, as are past winners Trina Jones, Terry Levis, Kelly Loeb and Sandy Day, a former women’s senior champ.

Others back to defend division titles are Steve Taormino (men’s junior-senior), Glen Clark (men’s senior) and Shelly Lehrkind (women’s senior).

Some of those same players will test their competitive edge this weekend in the city championships. Early this week, the tournament field was up about 40 players from last year to 110, said Centennial head professional Chris Daggitt. He’d like to hit 150.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “The smoke is making it tough, but it is what it is. There are still a lot of avid golfers out there and this is still the city championship. A lot of people want to play.”

Similar to the Southern Oregon, the city tournament won’t have the previous year’s men’s division champion back.

Ryan Whittaker shot 68 and 65 for a 133 last year, defeating Jake Quast by two shots.

Whittaker turned pro soon after. Quast also isn’t entered this year.

Two players who figure to make noise are Barry and Mark Wilson, who recently captured the Centennial club championship.

Champions are returning in other divisions: Kelly Rasmussen (men’s senior), Jon Paauwe (men’s super senior) and Levis (women’s).

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Aubrie Street with the drive shot on the 13th Tee during the semi-final round in the Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Sunday.[PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR]