WALLA WALLA — Peter McClure isn’t exactly praying for rain.
But the way his Whitman College men’s golf team handled the inclement weather conditions a couple of weeks back at the Pacific Lutheran University Invitational, it might not be a bad idea as he prepares to lead the Whits into this weekend’s Northwest Conference Fall Classic.
“I did notice that our guys were pumped up about being able to play in those conditions,” McClure said of the PLU Invite. “Nobody complained one bit about the weather.”
That tournament was played at the challenging Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash., and the Whits were just six shots out of the lead after a first round that was played in a driving Seattle rainstorm. The weather improved the second day but Whitman did not, settling for a tie for third-place and 29 strokes behind tournament champion PLU.
This weekend’s Fall Classic will be played at the Tri-Mountain Golf Course in Ridgefield, Wash., another I-5 corridor course that has been known to take on water. The course is located a few miles north of Vancouver and just east of the Columbia River in the shadows of Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams.
“I played the course in July and would say that it’s medium-hard,” McClure said in assessing Tri-Mountain. “This was in July and it was lush and green.
“The fairways are mostly adjacent to one another with a lot of uneven lies and a little bit of water. It’s not the caliber of Wine Valley or Chambers Bay, two of the courses we have played this fall, but it will be a good test.”
This weekend’s event, which will be played Saturday and Sunday, is the only tournament of the fall season that will count toward next spring’s Northwest Conference championship. The Fall Classic and the Spring Classic are weighted equally, with the Northwest Conference Championships double weighted in determining the championship.
However, the player who emerges as the individual medalist this weekend will secure a place on the all-NWC team, McClure noted. And he believes he has several players who can compete for that honor.
“Geoff Burks is having an outstanding year, and I expect that to continue this weekend,” McClure said of his senior standout from Edmonds, Wash. Scott Martin is on the verge of breaking through and Daniel Hoffman has been so consistent and brings such a good attitude that it is infectious to the team.
“And Evan Dyar, we know how good he can be, but he hasn’t broken through yet. Every time he tees it up I think it will be his best round.”
Burks has a team-leading stroke average of 74, highlighted by a 5-under-par 67 during the second round of the Whitman Invitational Sept. 30 at the difficult Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla.
Dyar, a freshman from Spokane, is second at 75. Hoffman, another freshman from Los Altos, Calif., is at 77 and Martin, a sophomore from Escondido, Calif., is 78.
Freshman Conner Hood (Bellevue, Wash.) will fill the fifth slot this weekend, replacing junior Jordan Dixon (Spokane), who has played No. 5 the majority of the time this fall.
“Our top four guys have been very consistent all year,” McClure said. “I left the fifth spot open, and Conner beat Jordan in a 9-hole playoff last week at Veterans Memorial and gets the spot.
“It was close,” McClure added. “Conner won it by one stroke on the ninth hole.”
Hood has a stroke average of 82 in five competitive rounds while Dickson posted an average of 87 over six rounds.
Teams accumulate one point toward the conference championship for every team they finish ahead of in this weekend’s final team standings. The winner of the nine-team tournament will be awarded eight points, the second-place team seven points and on down the line.
McClure anticipates that two rounds in the 295 range might be good enough to win the tournament.
“I would think that would be good enough, but the way our conference is improving it might not be,” he said. “It’s going to depend a lot on the weather, and it can get a little soggy over there.”
McClure labels Pacific Lutheran University as the favorite but isn’t counting out other squads, including his own.
“University of Puget Sound finished second at the PLU tournament and they are a strong team,” McClure said. “We tied Whitworth for third, and Linfield was next.
“My goal is to win it,” he continued. “Whenever I send out an email to the guys with a tournament itinerary, the last item on the list is to pick up the trophy.”