If this is a slump, Chris Mitchell can live with it.
In the 1980s, Mitchell made a habit of accepting the winner’s check at the Rosauers Open, which starts today at Indian Canyon, and particularly the Lilac Invitational - the area’s most prestigious golf tournaments.
He bagged the Rosauers in 1989 and 1992. He plucked six Lilac crowns, but none since 1989.
So why the recent dryspell?
“The years I was winning, there was only a handful of guys, six or seven, who could win,” said Mitchell, the pro at Sun Dance. “Now, there’s 20 or 25 who could win the tournaments.
“I know I’m a better, more complete player (now).”
Gary Lindeblad, pro at Indian Canyon, agrees.
“His swing is better now than it’s ever been,” Lindeblad said.
“There’s a lot of good players around. You look at the Monday Pro-Ams five years ago and there were maybe three or four guys shooting under par. Now, you shoot even (par) and might as well not turn in your card.
“My son has a hat, ‘Second place is the first loser.’ There’s no sport where that’s truer than golf.”
Mitchell has experienced several recent runner-up finishes. And to be fair, much of Mitchell’s success in the 1980s and early ‘90s corresponded with his repeated attempts to qualify for the PGA Tour. His game was razor sharp.
But last year, for example, teaching lessons consumed gobs of Mitchell’s time and his game suffered. This year, he’s limited lessons to three days a week so he can concentrate on his playing.
And accordingly, he’s playing well. Thursday’s Pro-Am was no exception, as Mitchell fired the day’s lowest score, a 9-under-par 63 that included two eagles, five birdies and no bogeys.
“I’m hitting it pretty good and I’ve been working hard,” he said. “I’m excited about this week.”
Mitchell’s plan of attacking Indian Canyon may differ from others. Many hit 2- or 3-irons off the tees to stay on the fairways. Mitchell, much like Greg Whisman, the two-time defending champion who isn’t playing this weekend, said long, accurate driving is the key.
“If you can give yourself wedges coming in, you can keep it in good position,” he said. “The year I won it (1992) and really played well, I was about 19 under and I just hit the driver perfect.”
A repeat driving performance this week could land him back in first place. If not, he’ll keep honing his game with the expectation that wins will come.
“I think I still have the respect of my competitors,” he said.
Same ol’ favorites
The usual suspects have been rounded up as Rosauers favorites - locally Mark Gardner (The Creek at Qualchan), Mark Rohde (Rohde Golf Studio), Dan Koesters (University of Idaho coach) and Mitchell.
Others who figure to be in the chase include Jeff Coston (Semiahmoo), the sectional player of the year last year who is on course to claim that honor again, Chuck Milne (Vancouver Driving Range) and Tom Carey (Creekside).
Keep an eye on Nike tour member Mark Wurtz (Port Ludlow) and Palm Springs’ Jeff Freeman (Tamarisk).
“It’ll be a putting contest,” said Rohde, fresh from shooting 70-71 at the Ernst Championship in Kenmore, bettering touring pros such as John Daly and Davis Love III.
Unfortunately, Rohde’s not too enthused by his putting.
“It’s hard to be positive,” he said. “I feel like my game is good, but I don’t get results.”
Hogwash, say Mitchell and Lindeblad. “Don’t let him kid you,” Lindeblad said. “He’s an excellent putter.”
Added Mitchell: “He’s a guy who could win it, if he’d get his mind off his putting. He’s one of the best ball strikers around and I think he’s a very good putter.”
Pro-Am, part two
Professional Gary Niklason teamed with amateurs Ray Rupprecht, Bob Weed, Brian Jones and Alan Ross to win Thursday’s Seafirst Bank Pro-Am.
The fivesome shot 107 in the net best-ball event, finishing three strokes ahead of two groups.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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