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Ozark Invitational preview

Posted Friday, April 24, 2009, at 6:27 AM

Right in the middle of the 11th fairway at Westwood Hills Country Club stands a tree so despised, many would be happy to see it turned into furniture or firewood.

Everybody in the 63rd annual Ozark Invitational will face that oak tree this weekend with the same decision to make.

"Without the tree it would be a nothing hole," said Tom Hoover, tournament director. "With the tree, you have to figure to hit it right or left of the tree. If you hit left, you can hit it out of bounds.

"But the tree makes the hole."

Of all the trees that were damaged during an ice storm this past February, the large oak tree in the middle of the 11th fairway was nearly untouched. It lost a branch or two, but unlike many of the trees on the 6,248-yard course, it's hard to tell.

Hoover estimated that five good-sized trees were completely removed and it took over 75 volunteers the course of two weekends to remove the majority of the debris.

With fewer trees and limbs, will there be lower scores among the 135-man field?

"The course is more open but I don't think it will affect the scores," Hoover said. "You still have to put the ball in the fairway, you have to put it on the green.

"The greens are going to be hard and slick."

The tree on No. 11 aside, the real test at Westwood Hills comes with putter in hand.

"I think it's going to be harder because the greens are a lot firmer and a lot faster," said Billy Pyland, golf coach for Poplar Bluff High School who is also in the field.

For the first time, Pyland's high school players can enter the tournament.

The Missouri High School Activities Association changed a rule to allow golfers to play in two non-team tournaments during the season. Three players from Poplar Bluff -- Zack Stricker, Trent Hillis and Carr Vernon -- will play in the two-day tournament along with several other area high school players.

In past years, Vernon caddied for his dad and Hillis was on his brother Tyler's bag last year as he finished tied for fourth. Instead of lending their knowledge of the course to others, the high school players could be a threat.

"We have a couple of kids that can play with anybody," Hoover said.

Playing in the Ozark will help prepare them for the two-day state championships in May, Pyland said.

"I think anytime you get a tournament under your belt it's a good thing," he added.

Also new this year is a split into two divisions -- championship and senior for players age 50 and up. The change is to accommodate the Missouri Golf Association's point standings to determine the top golfers in the state for the year.

There will also be a new champion. Kyle Ramey, who shot a 6-under 136 to win last year, turned pro, as did four-time champion Rob Long. Still, five former champions are expected to play including four-time winner Ben Godwin, 1994 champ Antonio Serrano, '92 champ Scott Thomas and Roger Null, who won in 1982.

Buddy Allen of Pevely, last year's runner-up by a stroke, is back along with three of the top six finishers.

Newcomers include Lane Pippin of Ocean Springs, Miss. who has won his state's Amateur and Open titles along with the Mid-Amataur.

The tournament starts at 8 a.m. Saturday while the annual Ozark Shootout will be held at 3 p.m. Friday starting on the 10th tee.

With all the damage to trees, Hoover said the one hole that may be the most different is the par-4 13th. The dog-leg right lost much of the canopy that protects the green from the tee on the 395-yard hole.

"Most of the long knockers like to knock it over the top of the trees," Hoover said. "It used to be a risk and if you took the risk, you had reward."

Much of the tree damage was done on the front 9, which is the newer part of the course and has younger, smaller trees. The back 9, which opened in 1936, lost two trees on the left side of the green at No. 14 but the large sycamore tree 118 yards from the green on No. 15 had little damage much like the oak on 11.

That "#%$@ tree" on No. 11 stares down golfers teeing off 272 yards away, standing in the way of an easy birdie on the par-4 hole. Located 150 yards from the green, the tree splits the fairway with 28 yards on the left and 32 yards on the right before another row of trees.

It's the toughest hole in terms of relation to par and only one winner in the past four years has carded a birdie there.

"You have to pick a side, it's got to be right or left," said Stricker, a senior on the Poplar Bluff golf team. "It's a tough one and it's right in the landing area too."

Stricker said after the ice storm hit, he knew that tree would still be standing.

"It's Murphy's Law," he added. "I knew the tree on 11 will still be there and one on (No.) 4. I'm always behind that one too and it's still standing."

While the trees took a hit, Westwood's signature greens are faster and slicker than ever.

"The Ozark is all about the greens," Trent Hillis said. "Whoever putts the best is going to win. That's what the Ozark is about."

Here's the starter's list for the first day of the tournament, which is subject to change:


Westwood Hills Country Club, par 71

8 a.m.

Schooner Fitzgerald, Cahokia, Ill.

James Gorsuch, St. Louis

Tim Horne, Piedmont


Sammy Gonzales, Poplar Bluff

Tony Markham, Piedmont

Mike Sissum, Dudley

Alex Vahldick, Kansas City


Charles Dunn, Springfield

Jeff Lee, Springfield

Jarrod Meyer, Branson

Troy Bell, Poplar Bluff


Walter Powell, Springfield

Barry Stahl, Ellsinore

Bill Staples, St. Louis

Mike Vose, Sunrise Beach


Sam Bass, Doniphan

Tanner McKinney, Piedmont

Steve Roberts, Desloge

Carr Vernon, Poplar Bluff


Steve Arndt, Sikeston

John Bailey, Nashville, Tenn.

Tim Boyd, Eureka

Don Johnson, Nixa


Lucas Black, Columbia

Greg Ford, Paducah, Ky.

Justin Gosa, Sikeston

Chris Montgomery, Poplar Bluff


Luke Chailland, Doniphan

Bob Englehart, Jackson

Jimmy Mitchell, Grover

Billy Pyland, Poplar Bluff


Dustni Ashby, O'Fallon

Patrick Britt, O'Fallon

Brevin Giebler, Cape Girardeau

Trent Hillis, Poplar Bluff


Barr Blanton, St. Louis

Kyle Christian, Dexter

Rob Lahay, Grover

Jimmy Vernon, Poplar Bluff


Ben Cantrell, Cape Girardeau

Jon Key, Burlington, Ky.

Chris Stack, Springfield

Jerrod Murphy, Poplar Bluff


Tom Barry, St. Louis

Drew Hatten, Kansas City

Scotty McClellan, O'Fallon

Brett McCauley, Poplar Bluff


Buddy Allen, Pevely

Brian Kennedy, Chesterfield

Todd Metz, Hattiesburg, Miss.

Ben Brumitt, Poplar Bluff


Don Bliss, Chesterfield

Darren Lundgren, Grover

Travis Mitchell, Springfield

Bobby Godwin, Poplar Bluff


Jeff Champion, Pell City, Ala.

Jeff Chandler, Kenton, Tenn.

Antonio Serrano, Springfield

Derek Rahlmann, Poplar Bluff


Check Greene, Springfield

Lane Pippen, Ocean Springs, Miss.

Andrew Pranger, St. Louis

Ben Godwin, Poplar Bluff


Shane Burkett, Jay, Fla.

Brian Haskell, St. Joseph

Jeff Johnson, Ballwin

Tyler Stalker, Springfield


Mike Carroll, Springfield

Ryan Chandler, Kenton, Tenn.

Matt Murphy, Overland Park, Kan.

Steve Shock, Poplar Bluff


Steve Groom, Raytown

David Lucks, Kirkwood

Andy Smith, Gladstone

Scott Thomas, Chesterfield


Tim Holmes, Springfield

Bryan Johnson, Cape Girardeau

David Johnson, St. Louis

John Shock, Poplar Bluff


Wayne Fredrick, Springfield

Patrick Riordan, St. Louis

Chris Love, Poplar Bluff


Brian Dean, St. Louis

Nathan Fredrick, Springfield

Robert Meeh, St. Louis

Tanner Werner, Jackson


Craig Hardcastle, St. Louis

Gerald Siemons, Jefferson City

Robert Trittler, Wentzville

Rocky Walther, St. Louis


Karl Elbrecht, St. Louis

Darrel Huisinga, Fenton

Roger Null, Wentzville

Ken Swinford, Jackson

12:06 p.m.

Justin Bliss, O'Fallon

Scott Whittaker, Springfield

Bill Wynn, Nixa

Zack Stricker, Poplar Bluff


Clay Branderburgh, Bolivar

Mike Ivie, Poplar Bluff

Richard Wiliams, Eminence

Brandon Lee, Poplar Bluff


Deno Bankson, Olive Branch, Ill.

Michael Hartman, St. Louis

Thomas Rainwater, Jackson

Terry Souchek, Columbia


Chase Johnson, Hollister

Shad McCue, Springfield

Tim Simmons, Cape Girardeau

Steve Souchek, Columbia, Ill.


Charlie Adams, Newburg

Chad McCoy, Poplar Bluff

Mike Morriss, Waynesville

Brad Nipper, Springfield


Joe Behl, St. Louis

Jack Eisenbeis, St. Louis

Chad Niezing, Manchester

Mark Simmons, Olive Branch, Ill.


Russell Brightman, St. Louis

Matt Buschman, Washington

Scott Kirchoff, Wentzville

Ken Ozbun, Malden


Doug Boyt, Gardner, Ky.

Rob Haik, Springfield

Barron Hemenover, St. Charles

Michael Lynch, St. Louis


Joe Craigmyle, Springfield

Denny Regan, Ballwin

Justin Robinson, Cahokia, Ill.

Rocky Strand, Jackson

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Brian Rosener is the keeper of the Semoball Cup which is presented to the school with the most successful season. It is based on a formula that takes into account the combined winning percentage of all sports teams plus bonus points for advancement in postseason play for both teams and individuals. The bonus points are divided by the number of teams a school fields. Rosener has been the sports editor for the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff, Mo. since December 2001. He was born and raised in St. Louis, where he attended Lindbergh High School and Webster University. He is married to Jennifer, a Poplar Bluff native, has a son Jack, 15, and a dog named Satchel who stands in for his @semoballBrian photo.
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