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Close to home, Allred tries to turn it around

Jason Allred is close — in a couple of ways.

First, after making one cut in the first four events of the Nationwide Tour season, the professional golfer from Ashland came away from last week's tournament feeling as though he's about to turn it around.

Second, this week he's playing in Livermore, Calif., a 51/2-hour drive from here. He's close enough that he'll be on hand as the featured speaker at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Rogue Valley Country Club.

Allred has long been friends with Jim Winans, who is the Southern Oregon director of FCA.

Allred, who is a week shy of his 27th birthday, remembers attending his first FCA golf camp at age 13.

"Ever since then," he says, "I've had the privilege to be involved in some way with FCA. I'm excited to come up and cheer Jimmy on in what's he's doing. To know he's spending time with young kids in the Rogue Valley is really dear to my heart, and I'm excited to come up and help anyway I can."

But first things first as Allred strives to get on the other side of the cut line.

He shot a 4-over-par 76 in the opening round Thursday at the Livermore Valley Wine Country Championship at Wente Vineyards and is tied for 86th place. Leader Henrik Bjornstad is at 4 under.

Only 18 players broke par on the course that last year was the most difficult on tour.

The Nationwide plays a sporadic schedule to begin the season. It opens in Panama, is followed three weeks later by two tournaments in Australia and New Zealand, then takes another month off before starting anew in the U.S.

Allred tied for 49th in the HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship, his only made cut.

Last year, he only played abroad in Panama because he had conditional status on the Nationwide and didn't make the other fields. He's fully exempt this season.

"Starting now, it gets pretty solid, so I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of things, getting back to competing," says Allred, who has changed coaches and is working with a caddie he hooked up with halfway through last season. "It's a challenge not to get a little discouraged about not playing well to start out. At the same time, I have to realize it's a long year.

"Sometimes I want to do so well so badly, I get in my own way. I can't get too frustrated or discouraged. I have to realize it will turn around without me forcing it."

Last week, in the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, he missed the cut by three shots, "but I had the feeling deep down that it was real close. I feel like I'm doing the right things. That's how golf is."

Making a few putts here and there, he says, is sometimes all it takes.

"I've been rolling it well, too," says Allred. "I haven't started making a bunch yet. When you see a few fall, it seems like the hole gets bigger and bigger."

Allred used to work with renowned coach Butch Harmon, who is headquartered in Las Vegas. But he switched to Mike LaBauve, whose operation is only 10 minutes from Allred's Scottsdale, Ariz., home. LaBauve also works with Jeff Quinney, a Eugene native who is having have a breakout season on the PGA Tour, and Doug LaBelle, another PGA player.

LaBauve came highly recommended by both players, says Allred, who also works with his father, Gene, when the two get together.

Allred has a relatively new caddie in Greg Putt, who goes by "Puttie." The two joined forces in a tournament in Wichita, Kan., last season and have a good chemistry.

Allred's wife, Kimberly, had caddied for him, but full-time golf became a grind for her.

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