Murphy chases first men's three-peat in SOGC history

Murphy chases first men's three-peat in SOGC history

The third time has been anything but a charm for those trying to win three consecutive titles in the men's division of the Southern Oregon Golf Championships.

In 83 years of the venerable tournament, which begins today at Rogue Valley Country Club, it's never been done.

Rogue River's Kevin Murphy, who made history two years ago when, at age 17, he became the youngest champion the division has known, will again try to etch his name in tournament lore when he goes after a three-peat.

"I've definitely thought about it," said Murphy. "I think it would be pretty cool to do well and get it done, but I don't want to get ahead of myself."

For good reason.

Nine players have captured consecutive titles 10 times — Dick Hanen, who is second on the all-time list of division crowns with four, went back-to-back in 1940-41 and 1946-47.

For whatever reasons, none accomplished a third.

The two most recent attempts, by Mike Barry in 2009 and Tommy Smith in 2000, were derailed even though each player seemed invincible at those times.

To wit, Barry's game was in such good form, he had competed in the U.S. Amateur one week before teeing it up in the SOGC and taking aim at SOGC immortality. Then he ran into Daniel Engle in the match-play tournament's quarterfinals and was defeated.

Smith got much closer. Thirteen years ago, he built a 5-up lead through nine holes of the 36-hole final against Kevin Klabunde. Smith all but had his hands wrapped around the large crystal trophy that goes to the victor, only to watch his opponent craft a startling turnaround.

"He made a putt on the 10th hole, then all of a sudden he started making everything," said Smith, who lives in Arizona but returns to the Rogue Valley to compete in the SOGC and city championships.

"I don't remember what it was, but he fleeced me pretty good."

Klabunde's 6-and-4 victory was just another example of the difficult task ahead for Murphy.

He is one of 416 entrants in all divisions of the tournament, making it a full field and the second straight year the figure has eclipsed 400.

Play begins today with qualifying for local men in the nation's largest single-site match-play event. Women and out-of-town players qualify Wednesday, and matches begin Thursday. The tournament ends with championship matches in each division on Monday.

Murphy, who will enter his freshman year at Oregon State this fall on a golf scholarship, downed Barry in the SOGC finals last year, 8 and 6.

"Three times in a row is a lot," said Murphy, who is coming off a third-place tie in the Rogue Valley Stroke Play Championships. "Two in a row is really good, but once you get to three, it's just tough odds."

The unpredictable nature of match play makes the SOGC a hard tourney to handicap.

Barry, who tied with Murphy for third in the city tourney Sunday at Centennial Golf Club, seemed as much of a lock as one could be before falling to Engle, 1 down, in 2009.

Barry was 2 up with seven holes to play.

"All I remember from the tournament is not playing great but squeaking by in matches," he said. "I finally ran into Dan, and Dan played pretty well from what I remember and took me out."

Barry said he didn't dwell on becoming the first to win three straight titles.

"It was pretty much before the tournament started," he said of thinking about the possibility, "then after the tournament being upset about it knowing I had a chance at it and didn't pull it off."

Both Barry and Smith believe several players would have won at least three championships over the years if the SOGC was a stroke-play tournament.

"Match play is a whole different animal," said Barry, who, along with Brooks Newsom, is trying to become just the third player with at least four men's titles.

Eddie Simmons won it six times, including two in a row in 1938 and '39. Hanen also had four wins.

"Match play is a different beast," said Barry. "You have to play good enough to get by your match that day, and I think that gets in your head. I know it gets in my head. I've never been a great match player, but it's just a matter of trying to block out playing your opponent and play the golf course, like everyone says."

Winning three straight isn't something a player thinks about while on the course, said Smith, who has three men's titles but is now entered in the junior-senior division.

"But sure, you think about it," he said. "That's something that anybody who's ever won two in a row has wanted to do, just like everybody who's trying to win every other division. Yeah, you think about it."

He, too, cited match play as the main reason it's hard.

"You can play bad and win and play great and lose," he said. "The match-play element is tough."

In between Smith and Barry, Scott Tuttle won two straight in 2002 and '03, but he moved from the area and didn't return in '04.

Murphy hasn't played as much tournament golf this summer as in years past, preferring to work on his overall game to get ready for college. The two days of city play were important in getting him ready to defend his SOGC title.

"I've made a lot of changes this summer, so I haven't really played my best golf, especially with putting," he said, adding that he had four-putt greens each of the two days in the city and several three-putts.

Still, he rated his game better this year than last when entering the SOGC.

"This week I've kind of struggled, but it's always like that the first couple times back into tournament play," said Murphy. "I feel like now that I have a couple days to think about it, I'm going to go into the Southern Oregon playing really well."

So what are the odds Murphy becomes the first to win three men's championships?

"Pretty good," said Smith. "Again, there's a lot of golf to be played. Somebody's bound to do it, but there have been a lot of great players who have tried. It'd be neat if he does it."

There are 112 players in the men's division, 96 in the men's senior, 80 in the men's junior-senior, 64 in the men's super senior, 32 in the women's and 32 in the women's senior.

All of the men's division champions are back to defend their titles. In addition to Murphy, they are Don Gorman (men's junior-senior), Mark Wilson Sr. (men's senior) and George Mack Sr. (men's super senior).

The women's divisions will have new champions. Last year's women's winner, Tiffany Schoning, turned professional, and the women's senior victor, Deb Cordell, moved away.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email

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