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Strong start pushes Polski to his second SOGC title

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No matter how well he started Monday’s men’s championship bracket final at the 92nd annual Southern Oregon Golf Championships, Chris Polski always knew that his opponent was never going to go away quietly.

And even with Polski getting about as good of a start as he could have drawn up, R.O. Gamez, as predicted, kept the pressure on.

Polski never let Gamez’s ability to make things interesting slip his mind. Getting the best shot from his opposition, Polski was able to fend off Gamez during the marathon final day, capturing his second career SOGC title with a 3-and-2 victory at Rogue Valley Country Club.

“You’ve just got to keep the pedal down (when facing) somebody like R.O.,” Polski said. “He’s always going to be on the fairway, always on the green, always going to be solid. You just need to keep playing well and you can’t get complacent with any lead. That was my mindset.”

The two golfers entered the final 36 holes of action — a daunting task for both knowing how much golf they had played over the course of the past week — with very different levels of experience at the SOGC.

The 34-year-old Polski, the 2015 men’s champion and 2009 Oregon Golf Association Player of the Year, has been a regular in the tournament since his early 20s.

Gamez, on the other hand, hadn’t played in a match play tournament in “five or six years” and hadn’t competed in the SOGC since 2013. Monday was his first appearance in the SOGC championship match.

Both of them got to Monday’s final with close wins 24 hours earlier. Polski beat Ethan DeVore in the first hole of a playoff, while Gamez beat Joey Rossknecht 1 up on Sunday.

“What was nice was that I played a little better each day,” Polski said. “I started off a little cold with the putter, but started making a little more. I played well, for sure, but it got better progressively as the week went on.”

Polski never trailed Monday. That was thanks in large part to opening the day’s first round by going 5 up after just seven holes, with five pars sandwiched in between a pair of birdies. As they hit the start of the back nine on their first 18 holes, Polski was 6 up and looking like he was heading toward a big win.

“I really wanted to get off to a good start and wanted to build a good lead on him because I know how gritty of a competitor (Gamez) is,” said Polski, who is the associate head golf coach at Bushnell University in Eugene. “I wanted to get a good lead on him — and I did that. I got off to the start I wanted to, but I knew he wasn’t going to go away.”

That gut feeling proved to be right on the money.

Before he knew it, Polski’s big lead wasn’t so comfortable once they hit the midway point of the day.

Gamez chipped away at Polski’s early lead, getting within two holes after 18 holes.

“I was just trying to chip away at (the lead) one hole at a time,” Gamez said. “I tried to make a couple of putts and the putter let me down a little bit, but he played great.”

“My dad (who was caddying) kept telling me ‘A lot of golf left, a lot of golf left.’ I was like ‘I gotta make a birdie, I gotta make a birdie,’” Gamez continued, “but I got a few pars here and there to get a couple holes back.”

Added Polski: “(Being 2 up after 18) was a bit of a letdown, I’m not going to lie. The momentum was definitely with him after the first 18. It was a little bit of a downer having to get that lead back up. But, I said, ‘You know what, you’re 2 up after playing 18. You would have taken that at the beginning of the day.’”

As impressive as Polski’s start to the first 18 holes was, Gamez was locked in to begin the second 18, recording three straight birdies to pull even with Polski.

But that only lasted for one hole before Polski was able to go back in front after Gamez made bogey on the par-3 fourth hole.

“I made a couple of birdies and thought I was playing well,” Gamez said, “then got to a tough par 3 and Chris made par.”

With an opportunity open, Polski ripped off a run to go back ahead 4 up within the span of four holes, hitting a pair of birdies and getting his footing after Gamez’s quick start to the round.

“It was disheartening,” Gamez said, “but I was back where I was and thinking ‘Hey, gotta chip away at this.’ I got a couple, but no, Chris is a great player.”

Gamez saw Polski’s lead shrink to as little as 2 up with five holes to go after the latter recorded back-to-back bogeys — the first coming after he hit the water off the tee on the par-4 12th and then missing a short putt moments later. Gamez, however, then made a bogey of his own on the par-4 14th to put Polski 3 up again.

Gamez also had a chance to close the gap with two holes to play, but saw his chip shot from just off the fringe nearly make a full 360 around the hole before popping out and resulting in a par for both players.

“I’m not joking, I thought we were on to the next hole,” Polski said. “That’s how good of a shot it was. It was perfect.”

Gamez said his run to the championship match had been one of his more stressful golf experiences in quite a while.

“It was a long week. I took a week off work, and I think a week of work might have been easier than this. It was a lot of stress,” Gamez said with a laugh. ““It’s been a long time since I’ve played tournament golf like this. Take away that it’s long and a lot stress, I’ll be back next year.”

For Polski, capturing an SOGC title isn’t a newfound experience, but the appreciation for finishing atop the mountain was definitely there as he sat back in his golf cart and got congratulatory hugs and handshakes afterward.

It had been six years since his first win, after all.

“Honestly, it feels pretty good because I’m getting a little bit older and I’ve played in this thing since I was 20 years old,: Polski said, “so it’s fun to be able to compete with the younger guys even though I am a little bit older. It’s still nice to know you can pull off some wins against some guys who are really talented young players.”

SOUTHERN OREGON GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS

MEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Chris Polski def. R.O. Gamez 3&2

MEN’S FIRST FLIGHT

Gerry Snyder def. Jacob Henderson 4&3

MEN’S SECOND FLIGHT

Taylor Klemp def. Corey Marineau 1 up

MEN’S THIRD FLIGHT

Ryan Mitchell def. Scott Weiland 3&1

MEN’S FOURTH FLIGHT

Jordan Anderson def. Jeremiah Paladino 2&1

MEN’S FIFTH FLIGHT

Jeremy Henson def. Dalton Pfau 3&2

MEN’S SIXTH FLIGHT

Jim Bennett def. Timothy Wiedrich 2&1

MEN’S SEVENTH FLIGHT

Brian Findlay def. Travis Sanders 2&1

MEN’S EIGHTH FLIGHT

Jordan Jenkins def. Christopher Ellis 1 up

MEN’S NINTH FLIGHT

Matthew Miller def. Patrick McCormick 20th

JUNIOR-SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Michael Stieler def. Tommy Smith 2&1

JUNIOR-SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Scott Wise def. Justin Wise 2 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

James Russell def. Michael O’Connell 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Justin Azevedo def. Eric Engelbach 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Ryan Kantor def. Kevin Jones 4&3

JUNIOR-SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Brooks Gard def. Alex Clark 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT

Robin Blanks def. Joe Davis 19th

JUNIOR-SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT

Chris Dufour def. Josh Godfrey 1 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR EIGHTH FLIGHT

Russ Wilson def. Jason Rowan 2 up

JUNIOR-SENIOR NINTH FLIGHT

Jad Dickson def. Jack Adams 6&5

SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Kevin Klabunde def. Craig Knips 5&4

SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Kevin Dixon def. Bret Mackay 1 up

SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

David Kaplan def. Scott Moore 4&3

SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Chris Littleton def. Gary Loeb 3&2

SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Todd Raduski def. Rich Mettler 1 up

SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Jim Palazzolo def. Larry Conkings 19th

SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT

Kevin Tucker def. Philip Heiner 2 up

SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT

Dwight Shriver def. Greg Wojtal 3&2

SUPER SENIOR CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Glen Clark def. Bob Dickey 3&2

SUPER SENIOR FIRST FLIGHT

Robert Stassi def. Doug Ward 2&1

SUPER SENIOR SECOND FLIGHT

Scott Tuttle def. Gregory Miller 1 up

SUPER SENIOR THIRD FLIGHT

Bruce Hart def. Mike Armitage 2&1

SUPER SENIOR FOURTH FLIGHT

Mark Wilson def. Karl Olson 19th

SUPER SENIOR FIFTH FLIGHT

Bill Allen def. John Liston 1 up

SUPER SENIOR SIXTH FLIGHT

Scott Swendiman def. Rick Widlund 2&1

SUPER SENIOR SEVENTH FLIGHT

Dave Allen def. Ross Cooley 7&6

SUPER SENIOR EIGHTH FLIGHT

Chuck Kenney def. Roger Peck 1 up

SUPER SENIOR NINTH FLIGHT

Darrell Hunt def. John Rowan 3&2

LEGENDS CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Dan Dixon def. Bob Maentz 2&1

LEGENDS FIRST FLIGHT

Larry Garvin def. Richard Brekke 1 up

LEGENDS SECOND FLIGHT

Bruce Wood def. Gordon Empey 2&1

LEGENDS THIRD FLIGHT

Michael Goldman def. Jim Hauck 1 up

LEGENDS FOURTH FLIGHT

Lael Collins def. Cliff Barnett 2&1

LEGENDS FIFTH FLIGHT

Dar Wolber def. Dwight Samuel 1 up

WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP FLIGHT

Johnna Nealy def. Payton Canon 3&2

WOMEN’S FIRST FLIGHT

Stephanie Johns def. Kirsten Reed 1 up

WOMEN’S SECOND FLIGHT

Susie Hammitt def. Lindsey Crosier 5&4

WOMEN’S THIRD FLIGHT

Michele Orrico def. Jan Hughes 3&2

WOMEN’S FOURTH FLIGHT

Julie Schamanek def. Barbara Stormo 1 up

WOMEN’S FIFTH FLIGHT

Darla Allen def. Shelli Bates 2 up

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Chris Polski with the drive off the tee at the Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
R.O. Gamez at Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
Chris Polski with the drive off the tee at the Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
Chris Polski putting at Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
R.O. Gamez with the drive off the tee at the Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR
R.O. Gamez with the drive off the tee at the Southern Oregon Golf Championship at Rogue Valley Country Club on Monday.// PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR