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TEE TALK: Klabunde narrowly misses out on U.S. Senior Amateur

Kevin Klabunde and his wife, Penny, went hiking. It was a splendidly serene way to spend Tuesday, which happened to be their 42nd wedding anniversary.

It also helped him forget the frustration of the day before.

On Monday, Klabunde came excruciatingly close to achieving a dream: qualifying for a U.S. Golf Association national championship, the Senior Amateur.

At Eugene Country Club, which will host the championship for those 55 and older later this month, the Medford golfer was even par through 13 holes of a sectional qualifier. He bogeyed three of the remaining holes, including Nos. 17 and 18, and dropped into a playoff for the lone remaining berth.

On the first playoff hole, No. 1, Klabunde pulled his drive into trees on the left — a recurring debilitation late in the day as he walked the long layout, lost his legs and, with them, his swing tempo.

“I kind of killed my chances,” said Klabunde, 64, a longtime Medford high school coach and one of the region’s best players. “I had a real good opportunity to make the tournament and I kind of blew it.”

It was his third notable brush with USGA championships in the past six weeks. He earlied played in a U.S. Senior Open sectional qualifier, and several weeks later worked that championship as a member of the scoring.

Klabunde and two other Medford players, Brad Bills and Glen Clark, entered the Eugene qualifier. Bills shot 80, Clark 84.

The course was set up at nearly the 6,829 yards it will be for stroke-play rounds when the tournament is held Aug. 25-30, said Senior Amateur director Greg Sanfilippo during a press conference Tuesday at the club.

In addition, the rough was 2 inches, about an inch shy of what the USGA wants for the championship, and the greens ran 11 or 12 on the Stimpmeter, which is the desired speed.

“We were playing it back pretty far,” said Klabunde. “I was surprised. It was brutal.”

The USGA prides itself on creating the ultimate tests of golf for championships. It accomplished it a few weeks early in this case.

Sanfilippo praised the course, which has a rich championship history. Most recently, it staged the NCAA men’s and women’s finals in 2016 and the U.S. Women’s Am in 2008. It produces different shot values and different misses each day, he said, and can be set up so every club in the bag must be summoned.

Good shots are rewarded and bad shots find trees, of which there are many.

Some players, Sanfilippo acknowledged, might not be able to reach a par 4 in regulation.

That’s OK. The USGA’s mission is simple: identify the best player in a particular demographic.

On Monday, 72 players competed. By holding a qualifier at the actual championship site, entrants came from farther away than usual. It created a larger field and, as a result, more berths — five — were at stake.

Two players, Larry Watts and Pat O’Donnell, broke par, shooting 1-under 71s to claim spots. Bradley Karns and Scott Hval were each 1 over, nabbing two more spots.

That left seven players tied at 75 and headed to the playoff for the last spot. (One player did not continue.)

Johnny Coppedge ended the suspense early, winning with a birdie on the 380-yard first hole. Klabunde was forced to punch out from the trees and was eliminated as others played for two positions as alternates.

“At that point, I was ready to depart the scene of the crime,” he chuckled.

There were highlights in his round.

He made a tough par on the fifth hole, a 187-yard par 3 fronted by water. He birdied the eighth and 12th holes.

“I played pretty solid the first 12 holes,” said Klabunde.

Then fatigue crept in.

His drive on 17 got behind two small trees and stymied him. On 18, swinging hard on the 433-yard par 4, he snap-hooked his drive into the rough and couldn’t get home.

In practice the day before, he played the last two holes in 1 under.

“What I learned,” said Klabunde, “is that when I’m tired, I have to keep my legs in the swing. I kind of lost my legs, especially toward the end of the round. You have to keep your legs and hips turning into the swing.

“Now, if I can just remember that.”

DOMENZAIN DAZZLES: It’s understandable that Vince Domenzain considers the 15th hole at Brasada Canyons Golf Club in Powell Butte, near Bend, among his favorites.

The Eagle Point resident and former general manager at Centennial Golf Club has played the 292-yard par 4 three times and has made a 3, a 2 and … a 1.

That’s right, a hole-in-one on a par 4, which he accomplished Friday.

What’s even more flabbergasting is, it’s his second career ace on a par 4, the other coming in the late 1990s at the Golf Club of Vistoso in Tucson, Arizona.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Domenzain. “I mean, I hit a good shot both times, but you never expect it. To do it once was unbelievable. For it to happen again was almost laughable.”

And bewildering. When he and a partner informed the pro shop attendant of the ace, the man looked up and said, “You mean (hole) 17,” recalled Domenzain, referring to a par 3.

“No, 15,” Domenzain told him, to which the man replied, “That never happens.”

“It was kind of funny watching his reaction,” said Domenzain.

The hole doglegs to the left and doesn’t offer much of a bailout option to the right, outside of a mid-iron, such as a 7, said Domenzain. With driver, “you almost have to go at the green,” he said.

Domenzain and others in his group — friends from California — didn’t see the ball go in the hole. They found a mark 20 feet short of the cup and followed the trail.

His ace at Vistoso was on a similarly-shaped hole measuring 323 yards.

Domenzain has four holes-in-one, using driver twice, 1-iron once and, more conventionally, a 9-iron.

The odds of an average golfer making an ace on a par 3 are 12,000 to 1, according to the National Hole-in-One Registry.

Finishing a hole in 3 under par is an albatross, and usually occurs on par 5s. The odds for one of those are considered to be 1 million to 1 because it requires two great shots, length and ability, according to a report attributed to former USGA handicap director Dean Knuth.

The odds of one player having two aces on par 4s? Makes your head spin.

Domenzain shot a 2-under 70, three-putting the last hole, he noted, for a bogey.

“I should just remember the hole-in-one,” he admitted, “but for some reason, I think about that one mistake.”

And that, folks, is golf.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

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