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First-time champs, venerable Klabunde rule 91st SOGC

With such a strong backing from the Wu family here in Medford over the years, Kevin Geniza couldn’t help but make himself at home in his Southern Oregon Golf Championships debut at Rogue Valley Country Club.

The only downfall is that, in doing so, he had to take out one of his longtime friends and housemate for the week during Monday’s men’s championship final in the event’s 91st year.

Coming off a second straight title in the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships, the 22-year-old Geniza didn’t miss a beat in match play this week and capped it off by scoring a 9-and-8 win over Josh Wu on Monday.

“It means a lot to me,” Geniza said of his first SOGC title. “I have a rich history here in Southern Oregon, not only on the golf course but obviously the Wus are my second family and I’m proud to say that.”

“I know that they’re proud of me as they are of Josh and Jeremy because they had a great tournament as well,” he added of the Wu twins, whom he befriended during his early playing days on the junior circuit. “It was just an awesome ending to the whole week, starting with the city championships and coming down and repeating there and then sweeping at the Southern Oregon championships.”

On a busy day of championships in six divisions, the other winners were Baylee Hammericksen, women’s; Todd Couch, men’s junior-senior; Kevin Klabunde, men’s senior; Bob Dickey, men’s super senior; and Mike Simmons, men’s legends.

The men’s regular and junior-senior were 36-hole matches. The others were 18.

Josh Wu, on special leave from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was able to accomplish two things Monday: He became the first in his heralded golfing family to reach a SOGC final, and he was the first to take a lead on Geniza this week.

Unfortunately for Josh Wu, who was a state championship golfer at St. Mary’s, the latter didn’t hold up for very long.

An out-of-bounds tee shot by Geniza on the first hole of their scheduled 36-hole match allowed Wu to go 1 up right away, but the University of Oregon senior bounced right back by winning the next two holes and then carried that strength to a 5 up lead after the first 18 holes.

Knowing Wu’s potential, Geniza said he didn’t think once about looking ahead to his victory against the former Air Force Academy standout.

“At that point I knew I still had a lot of golf ahead of me and anything can happen in the second 18,” Geniza said of his thoughts during a short break before starting the second half of his match. “I knew that he was going to try and battle back so in a way it was like I had to not necessarily hold on but just battle the urge of going external and thinking about other factors that could affect me instead of just focusing on my own game and my own emotions.”

“I just kept the ball in front of me and kept applying pressure,” he added. “I didn’t hit it great off the tee in the first 18 but I was hitting good shots into the greens and getting up and down. I made some putts that really were decisive in putting the match momentum in my favor.”

Geniza had Wu dormie with nine holes to play, then thankfully ended the match on the 28th hole on a day when temperatures reached 102 degrees.

“Ultimately it wasn’t even a battle of the birdies, it was a battle of the heat,” said Geniza. “Not many people were out there really watching because there were no spectators allowed this year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) but anyone who was out there today understands how much of a toll the heat took on all of us.”

“In the end it was just a battle of longevity and stamina,” he added. “Josh is one of the strongest guys I know and that’s why he made it to the finals so he didn’t make it easy.”

Women’s

Nothing came easy for Baylee Hammericksen, either, as she earned her first SOGC title with a 2-and-1 triumph over defending champion Johnna Nealy, who was seeking her fourth women’s title overall.

The St. Mary’s High senior-to-be went 3 up through the first six holes but soon found herself all square with Nealy through 10 holes.

“From then on it was just really close,” said the 18-year-old Hammericksen. “She hit a big shot and then I hit a big shot, it just went back and forth.”

A key birdie on the 13th hole allowed Hammericksen to go 2 up and she held that advantage until Nealy won the 16th hole to set up a potential closing rally.

On the pivotal par-3 17th hole, Nealy’s tee shot sailed right of the green while Hammericksen was honed in to put off the fringe. Facing a really challenging chip, Nealy was unable to reach the green and then followed with another chip to within 3 feet of the cup.

Hammericksen’s ensuing putt for birdie fell 2 inches shy of its destination, but certainly close enough for Nealy to concede the putt and the match to the delighted teenager.

“It feels really good,” a beaming Hammericksen said of her first SOGC win. “It’s just a culmination of all the hard work I’ve done over the summer. This is the one I was really looking forward to, not only because it’s a big tournament in the local area but because it’s so much fun, so being able to come out on top is a really good feeling.”

This year’s women’s tournament had only one division for the first time since 1997. Faced with dwindling participation in the regular and senior divisions, SOGC organizers polled former players and elected to revert to the format used from 1947-97. There were three 16-player brackets this weekend.

Men’s junior-senior

Medford’s Todd Couch was able to take an early 3-up lead on Greg Findley of Corral de Tierra, California, and didn’t give Findley any room to operate en route to a 3-and-1 victory for his first SOGC championship.

“I was just hitting a lot of great wedges and making a lot of key putts,” said Couch. “I got up early and just hung on.”

Helping his cause was the fact that Couch played even-par on the final eight holes of the inside nine to keep Findley at bay.

“This means a lot,” said Couch. “I feel really blessed to be able to play at this high level. I’m very thankful to be able to compete against someone like Greg Findley, he’s a competitor, and to be able to come out on top is pretty good.”

Couch’s biggest win of the week may have come in his first match Thursday when he was able to beat Steve Taormino, who had won four of the last six junior-senior titles.

“Each round it got one step closer,” said Couch, “but getting over the hurdle with Steve was huge for me.”

Men’s senior

Kevin Klabunde felt almost embarrassed by his 1-up win over good friend Marty Morlan, but he carried even more emotion toward his 11th SOGC title overall after recent events.

“I’m going to dedicate this to my mom, who I lost a couple weeks ago,” said Klabunde. “She was a constant presence out here on Mondays watching me play and my No. 1 supporter.”

Klabunde’s mother Eadie passed away Aug. 21 at the age of 95 and was on his mind, as well as several of his good friends and supporters this week who offered up their own condolences.

The 66-year-old Klabunde has won every division in which he’s been old enough to play. The exception is the legends, which is for ages 75 and up. He won the men’s super senior title last year but was prodded to return to the senior ranks for this year’s event.

With Monday’s win, Klabunde moved to within four of the record held by George Mack Sr. for the most SOGC championships (15).

Klabunde and Morlan went neck-and-neck throughout their round, bouncing from 1 up to all square throughout the back nine until the fateful 18th hole saw Klabunde register a par after a bogey by Morlan.

“It was a good match, we just kind of went back and forth all day,” said Klabunde. “Marty’s a great gentleman. I felt bad that he lost because it could’ve gone either way, but it’s always fun when you win.”

Men’s super senior

While Klabunde has made a knack out of finishing on top at the SOGC over the years, Ashland’s Bob Dickey hasn’t exactly enjoyed the feeling, that is until Monday.

Facing a formidable foe in Glen Clark, who is a three-time SOGC champion, Dickey was able to birdie the 19th hole to finally break through at RVCC.

On the extra hole, Dickey hit a 40-yard wedge to within 3 feet of the hole and then calmly rolled in his next shot for birdie.

“I’m going to estimate that I was about 0-for-39 until today, so now I’m 1-for-40,” said Dickey, still processing his win well after his final putt. “I was so used to not getting it, I still haven’t gotten this winning part of it figured out.”

“The guys in that super senior flight, they’re so good it’s crazy,” he added. “Because Klabunde was nice enough to go down to the seniors, that gave us all a chance.”

Men’s legends

Mike Simmons capped off an impressive week of his own, ousting Medford’s Al Raduski on the 20th hole to win his first SOGC title.

The Casa Grenda, Arizona, resident halted the run of two-time defending champion George Mack Sr., who was seeking to extend his record for overall championships to 16, in Saturday’s semifinals with a 1-up victory and worked overtime to shake Raduski on Monday.

SOUTHERN OREGON GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS

Monday’s Results

MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Kevin Geniza def. Josh Wu 9 & 8

MEN’S FIRST FLIGHT

Mayson Tibbs def. Joey Rossknecht 5 & 4

MEN’S SECOND FLIGHT

Benjamin Purtzer def. Nicholas Daggitt 1 up

MEN’S THIRD FLIGHT

Ryan Kantor def. Scott Weiland 2 & 1

MEN’S FOURTH FLIGHT

Chase Schumacher def. Morgan Hawkins 4 & 2

MEN’S FIFTH FLIGHT

Andrew Curiel IV def. Jeremy Ross 19th

MEN’S SIXTH FLIGHT

Jordan Anderson def. Anthony Marquez 21st

MEN’S SEVENTH FLIGHT

Collin Krueger def. Henry Jones 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Todd Couch def. Greg Findley 3 & 1

JUNIOR-SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Steve Taormino def. Mike Snowden 2 & 1

JUNIOR-SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

Jeff Morgan def. Larry Miller 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Benny Shapiro def. Kevin Jones 4 & 3

JUNIOR-SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Mike Walker def. Ron Stranahan 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Frank Baracao def. Josh Godfrey 4 & 3

SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Kevin Klabunde def. Marty Morlan 1 up

SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Erick Doolen def. Stan Presley 1 up

SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

Jim Collman def. Kevin Dixon 20th

SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Brian Adolph def. Joel Jessel 1 up

SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Eric Artner def. Michael Schroeder 1 up

SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Bruce Mendelson def. Gibb Mitchell 1 up

SUPER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Bob Dickey def. Glen Clark 19th

SUPER SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Glenn Hartzheim def. David Orr 2 & 1

SUPER SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

Kelly Brown def. Patrick Daggitt 2 & 1

SUPER SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Larry Butler def. Steve Ballback 1 up

SUPER SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Ken Weist def. John Zupan 2 & 1

SUPER SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Roger Peck def. Steven Skinner 4 & 3

SUPER SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT

Thomas Michaels def. Steve Warrington 20th

SUPER SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT

Steve Polus def. Henry Burgoyne 3 & 2

LEGENDS CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Mike Simmons def. Al Raduski 20th

LEGENDS FIRST FLIGHT

Bruce Van Zee def. Bob Harrell 1 up

LEGENDS SECOND FLIGHT

Dodd Samuel def. Len Merryman 2 & 1

LEGENDS THIRD FLIGHT

Sid DeBoer def. Ron Dixon 3 & 1

LEGENDS FOURTH FLIGHT

Michael Trovato def. Robert Hutchins 3 & 2

LEGENDS FIFTH FLIGHT

John Ferris def. John Maurer 19th

WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Baylee Hammericksen def. Johnna Nealy 2 & 1

WOMEN’S FIRST FLIGHT

Payton Canon def. Stephanie Johns 3 & 2

WOMEN’S SECOND FLIGHT

Leslie Gainey def. Toni Watkins 1 up

WOMEN’S THIRD FLIGHT

Barb Pinkham def. Deb Stuart 1 up

WOMEN’S FOURTH FLIGHT

Jan Hughes def. Macy Aguirre 5 & 4

WOMEN’S FIFTH FLIGHT

Judy Brown def. Shelli Bates 4 & 3

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Kevin Geniza, men's championship. Photo by Denise Baratta
Kevin Klabunde, senior men's championship. Photo by Denise Baratta