Landers, other big hitters to tee it up

Tara Landers came within one yard last year of making it to the finals of the REMAX World Long Drive Championships.

Now she's hoping to take that last step.

Landers made it through qualifying here last year, then was edged out for a finals berth at the district championships in Washington. The Central Point resident will tee it up again this week and next in what has become something of Southern Oregon golf ball-driving bonanza at the Centennial Golf Club driving range.

A year ago, organizer Tim Mort held one day of long drive activity that proved successful in both the number of participants and spectators. This year, the event has grown dramatically, with more qualifying days and the addition of the district finals.

Next Saturday and Sunday, the Exceptional Driver contest will be held, along with local long-driver qualifying. There will also be a $10,000 putting challenge.

The following weekend, those three events will continue on Aug. 10, followed by two days of district finals. The district winners go to the world finals in Mesquite, Nev., in October.

The long-driver contest is just that: whoever hits the ball the farthest wins.

The Exceptional Driver contest involves both accuracy and distance, and the top three qualifiers here will go directly to the world finals in Laughlin, Nev.

Landers and her husband, Lance, who is helping to organize the competitions, have been playing golf for less than two years, but she clearly has a knack for going deep.

Tara Landers won the women's qualifier last year with a drive of 278 yards.

At the district finals, she went head-to-head with the other finalist, Darci Trimmer of Vancouver, Wash. Each alternated in the finals, hitting five balls. Landers went last and needed to uncork one in the 260-yard range. Hitting her natural draw, she got it past Trimmer's best effort — but it rolled outside the grid, meaning it didn't count.

"When you're hitting in front of a bunch of family and other people, there's a lot of pressure," says Landers, who entered because she heard about it while working locally for REMAX. "Like when you're playing in a tournament and teeing off on the first hole. Sometimes it's hard to even get the ball on the tee."

When the world finals were televised on ESPN, she watched one woman hit it more than 300 yards.

"It was pretty impressive to watch," says Landers, 33. She adds, "I'd like to think I can compete there, but I've got my work cut out for me."

She has prepared this year by spending a lot of time on the driving range and using a speed stick to quicken her swing. Her husband, she says, "was generous enough to buy me a new driver."

So far, so good, she reports of the TaylorMade Burner, which she used to win the long-drive prize in a recent tournament.

She's looking forward to the competition.

"It's actually a really exciting event to watch and be apart of it," says Landers. "I love the competition of it all. There's something exciting about being able to hit it a long way. Competing against other people makes it a fun event."

And she has extra incentive this year.

She and her husband had their first child, son Tayen, three weeks ago. Tayen cut into her training a bit, but Mom hardly minds.

"He was out there on the golf course even before he was born," she says. "I think we've got another golfer on our hands, maybe even a little long driver. This one will be for him, that's for sure. Mom will go all out."


TRINA RASMUSSEN decided two years ago she wanted to elevate her game and compete in high-level state tournaments.

When a baby came along half a year into her plan, her progress was slowed, but hardly derailed.

The reigning and three-time Rogue Valley Country Club women's champion competed in the Oregon Women's Mid-Amateur for the first time last weekend and placed a respectable seventh out of 16 players at Eagle Point Golf Club.

Rasmussen, 42, turned in rounds of 84 and 83 on a course so difficult, more than a few players, women and men alike, exited it muttering to themselves in frustration.

She was seven shots out of third place but seven shots clear of her closest pursuer. Winner Loree McKay shot 149 over the two days.

Rasmussen was alternately disappointed with her showing but proud of herself for hanging in under tough conditions.

When she decided to see how far she could take her game, she began by taking lessons in 2005 from Ed Fisher.

"I'm not there yet, but I'm close," says Rasmussen. "I think I can be competitive."

Rasmussen has been a regular in the RVCC club championships and the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament. As a three-time winner of the former, she qualified for the Oregon Tournament of Champions.

But she wanted more.

Figuring she needed to improve her distance and lower her handicap by as many as four strokes, from a 6 to a 2, she signed on with Fisher. That proved a bit disheartening.

"I had some pretty glaring faults in my swing that I wasn't aware of," she says. "I felt it but I couldn't see it. Ed pointed them out, and we've been working on those. I can feel the difference and see the difference when I do it."

Her consistency has improved — a sure sign the lessons are taking hold — but she still yearns for more distance.

To achieve that, her lessons have focused on getting the club on the right plane in her swing path. It was off line before, but she was able to manipulate the club at impact to make up for the flaws, albeit losing power in the move.

"It'll all be worth it in the end," says Rasmussen. "Ed kind of retools you. You have to go backward before you can go forward. It's all part of the process. Ask any good golfer, and they'll tell you they're never quite there.

"The fruits of it are when you see fewer and fewer bad swings and fewer and fewer bad holes, and that's where I'm at. I'm really excited and looking forward to two more tournaments (the RVCC and SOGT)."

In the mid-am, she was upset with herself for playing the back nines in 9 over par both days, but she had reason to be pleased as well.

She played with a quality player on Sunday who visibly lost her confidence on the tough track.

"The setup was very difficult," says Rasmussen. "Even the guys will tell you that. If you missed (the fairway or green), you were toast. You just had to hit good shots. That part I felt good about. I hit some really good shots out of the rough. You had to really concentrate, and I was able to do it."

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