Jimmy White’s performance was so dominant Monday, even he didn’t recognize when he had closed out his men’s regular championship match at Rogue Valley Country Club.
His finals foe, Joey Walker, wasn’t quite aware of it either but thankfully the throng of supporters standing greenside filled them in quickly after another smoky showdown at the 88th Southern Oregon Golf Championships.
Then again, when you’re playing in the marquee match of the day, you kind of expect to at least play the ninth hole in your second 18-hole turn of the day.
Buoyed by a commanding start that saw White open an 8-up advantage through the morning 18 holes, the 35-year-old steamrolled to an 11-and-10 triumph over Walker to secure his first SOGC title after runner-up showings in 2000 and ‘05 when he lost on the 36th hole.
“Jimmy just played phenomenal,” said the 22-year-old Walker. “He didn’t really give me any window to really try and charge back.”
Long off the tee and backed by the best short game he’s shown throughout his history at the SOGC, White was especially happy to subdue some of the recent trash talk he’s endured in his own home with Monday’s victory.
“My wife’s got two (SOGC titles) and she struts around the house all the time talking smack,” said White of his wife Reena, who won women’s regular titles in 1999 and 2015. “At least I’ve got one now to try to get up to where she’s at.”
His championship came with the kind of ease that normally isn’t on display on the final day of competition, and all of that had to do with his stellar start and some uncharacteristic struggles by Walker in his first final.
“Just to get up early, I think it kind of caused him to be a little bit out of rhythm by just being a few down and pressing a little bit,” said White. “In match play when you’re pressing like that sometimes it can go either way and I think just that little bit of pressure got him out of rhythm and he hit a lot of shots he wasn’t normally hitting. Joey’s an awesome player and I know he’s probably going to win this tournament if he keeps playing it eventually.”
Walker’s drive on the second hole of the day was pulled out of bounds, and that rough start repeated when the group returned for their second 18 holes when he pulled his first tee shot of that stretch out of bounds and then again pulled his drive OB on No. 2.
In need of an instant surge to put him back in contention, Walker instead dropped the first two holes of the second 18 and found himself 10 down with 16 to play in a matter of moments.
“I knew I had to come out playing well and get to a fast start,” said Walker. “During the week steady was the play — make a bunch of pars and make the other opponent beat me — but today I was on the flip side of that. I knew I was going to have to score and play and I just had a few bad holes early with bogeys and dumb mistakes and it just got away from me.”
Seeing his drive betray him was especially befuddling for Walker, who had been solid off the tee throughout the tournament to wear down his opponents.
“That was kind of weird because if anything this whole week, the driver was the club,” said the 2013 North Medford High graduate. “That’s what was keeping me hitting fairways and hitting greens nice and steady. That was kind of disappointing to see that club go away because that was really something I was leaning on.”
On this day, it may not have mattered much given how focused White’s play was from tee to green. He shot 4 under on the opening 18 holes, and was under par when the players shook hands after the eighth hole (No. 26 overall).
“I made a huge emphasis on my short game,” White said in preparation for this year’s tournament. “I felt like that is what is usually lacking and probably not my strength normally. I tend to be able to overpower a golf course a little bit but my short game gets exposed out here because there’s a little bit more of a premium on that, so I spent a lot of extra time focusing on that and luckily my putter was really good all week.
“When I got out of position, I made a lot of putts to keep myself in it and keep pressuring my opponent. Especially in match play, it kind of wears people down when they think they have you and you can make one to tie it up or win, and that’s huge.”
His loss in 2000 to Tommy Smith included him being on the wrong end of some of those big putts, and his loss to Brodie Sullivan in 2005 ended when his opponent rolled in an 18-footer over the top of him on the final hole to deny White again.
This time, it was White who was able to end things — albeit unceremoniously — with a 20-footer of his own after the golfers had gone dormie heading into the eighth hole.
White had pushed his tee shot into a cluster of trees and his approach shot clipped a branch to fall well short of the right greenside bunker. When his chip didn’t carry enough, it hit the downslope and raced past the pin to set up a tricky putt for par as Walker sat perfectly below the hole with a 10-foot birdie putt.
With all eyes on him, White coolly curled his 20-foot effort into the cup as if it was nothing.
“It was definitely a big left to right breaker,” he said. “I just tried to visualize the line and give it enough speed to give it a chance. It’s pretty much a do-or-die at that point for me because I know he’s making par at worst. I just gave it a good roll and got the right speed to it and it went in.”
When Walker’s birdie effort just barely missed the mark, the two players simply started walking toward the ninth tee box without much fanfare until informed of their true status.
“I had no idea that we were even dormie on this hole,” White said with a chuckle. “I thought for some reason (No. 9) was the dormie hole, I don’t know what was going on there.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry