Strong start pushes Polski to his second SOGC title
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.