High hopes at the High Plains: Vollertsen set to defend title
By BRETT MARSHALL
One of the strongest and biggest fields to tee it up at The Golf Club at Southwind will greet defending champion and hometown golfer Grant Vollertsen when the 19th High Plains Amateur Championship gets under way on Saturday morning.
A field of 143 golfers, which will compete in three divisions — Open: Age 34 and below, Masters: 35 to 49 years, and Seniors (50 and over). The Open division also is available to a golfer of any age if they declare so prior to the start of the tournament.
Vollertsen, a local dentist, won his first statewide amateur title a year ago when he blitzed the Southwind layout over 36 holes with rounds of 67-69--136, 6-under-par, to win by three shots.
"It's always fun to play your home course and it's nice to see the full field," Vollertsen said Wednesday. "It shows that people appreciate the fact we've got good courses here in western Kansas and that it's a really good tournament in which to play."
Vollertsen said he figured the field would be strong once again, having played against the collegians in recent years during the High Plains.
"I'm old enough now, that it's hard to know many of the college kids," said Vollertsen. "There's always good players here, so a person will have to play well if they want to win."
Vollertsen said he hoped the home course would provide him an opportunity to recapture that winning edge that propelled him to his big win a year ago.
"Obviously, I played well last year," Vollertsen said. "I had it going most of the time and it's always satisfying to finish off a win."
Vollertsen had reached match play in July's Kansas Amateur, losing to eventual champion Chase Hanna in the second round.
"I've got a little more confidence in my tee to green game at the moment," Vollertsen said. "But we all know it's about getting it in the hole, and not how you do it."
Vollertsen said that last year's weather provided little wind to challenge the players on the links-style Southwind layout.
"It was nice both days, but overall I think if the wind blows, it's an advantage to those of us who play in it all the time," Vollertsen said. "It certainly wasn't typical of the normal summer wind we get. I think most of us around here really don't mind playing in some wind. The guys from back east don't see it as much."
Sean Thayer, a former Kansas Amateur Champion, who also owns five High Plains titles (1997-98-99, 2009-10), is in the field as well.
But the two Garden City veteran golfers will have a quality field with which to contend for this year's championship.
Wichitan Charlie Stevens, the 2010 Kansas Amateur champion, is slated to play along with his son, Sam, the recent runner-up in the Kansas Amateur at Indian Hills Country Club in Mission Hills. The younger Stevens has already verbally committed to attend Oklahoma State University. Another Wichitan entered, Corey Novascone, won the Kansas Am in 1996.
Also in this year's field are current Kansas State University golfers Alex Carney of Wichita, David Klaudt of Dallas, Texas, Tyler Norris of Manhattan, Conner Schrock of Mission Hills, Hank Simpson of Mission Hills, Kyle Weldon of St. Louis, Mo., and Daniel Wood of Manhattan. Ryley Haas, a current University of Kansas golfer, is also in the field.
With the field full, the sponsoring Kansas Golf Association will make a cut in each of the three divisions after Saturday's opening round and the highest 49 scores in the Open division and the highest 10 players in the Senior Division will play Sunday's final round at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course. There are 79 players entered in the Open division, 26 in the Masters Division (none will play at the Dunes) and 38 in the Senior Division.
Perhaps the biggest name to have competed in the High Plains is Gary Woodland, the Topeka native and former University of Kansas golfer, who now is on the PGA Tour and is a two-time winner there. He won the High Plains Am in 2002 and also won two Kansas Amateur titles. He was the winner of the 2008 Southwest Kansas Pro-Am.
Golf Notes: The KGA is hosting two of its annual Senior Series events with the players competing Thursday at The Golf Club at Southwind while today they are at Buffalo Dunes. Members of the KGA Course Rating team also were in town Wednesday, touring both courses to provide updated USGA Course and Slope Ratings for the two facilities.
Also in town Wednesday was Cheryl Gleason, assistant executive director for the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
She met with school officials from Garden City High School and Lakin High School as those two schools will host the Class 6A and Class 3-2-1A state high school girls championships on Oct. 21. Buffalo Dunes will be the site for the Class 6A girls while Southwind will host Classes 3-2-1A. Garden City's Abbi Shaddix, a senior, placed sixth individually in the 2012 Class 6A state at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wichita while the Lady Buffs' team placed fifth. Syracuse's Lady Bulldogs are the two-time defending state champs in Class 3-2-1A. Senior Kiah Rash and junior Sydney Brown tied for runner-up honors a year ago with Rash winning the playoff.