WALLA WALLA — When Whitman College posted a 609 36-hole total last weekend at the Boxer Invitational at the Quail Valley Golf Club in Banks, Ore., men’s golf coach Peter McClure labeled it one of the Missionaries’ best scores — if not the best — in his 17-year tenure.
McClure calculates that the winning score at this weekend’s Whitman Fall Invitational at the Wine Valley Golf Club could sink as low a 595.
But that doesn’t mean for a single minute that McClure believes the tournament title is out of his team’s reach.
“I think we can shoot that,” McClure said of his projected wining score of 595. “I think we are very capable of shooting that.
“The 609 we shot at Quail Valley is just getting us started. We were burned by some double-bogeys late in the second round that shot our score up a little bit. But I know the guys can do it because they are so optimistic. They know they have the potential.”
The Whitman Fall Invite is slated for Sunday and Monday, with all nine of the Northwest Conference schools expected to attend. Play commences Sunday at 11 a.m. on graduated tee times and resumes Monday with a modified shotgun start at 8 a.m.
Meanwhile, the Whitman women’s team travels to Spokane to compete in a similar format at the Spokane Country Club. Whitman and Whitworth University alternate hosting the men’s and women’s tournaments every other year.
Freshman Evan Dyar from Spokane will play No. 1 for McClure’s men’s team this weekend. Not only does Dyar lead his team in stroke average after three rounds of competition, he is also the Missionary most familiar with Wine Valley’s links-style layout.
“Evan played in two big tournaments at Wine Valley over the summer,” McClure said. “And he did very well in both of them, so he knows the course well.”
Whitman does get the opportunity to practice at Wine Valley twice each week, McClure noted, so his other players are also acutely aware of the course’s intricacies.
“Wine Valley is completely unique,” McClure said of the newest Walla Walla track that has been open for play for less than four years. “The fairways are very wide and very fast, and the greens are likewise very hard and very fast.
“The putting breaks are very subtle, which means you have to hit a pure putt. But the most important thing is getting your speed so that you leave the ball close to the hole.
“Everyone hits the ball a long ways these days,” McClure said. “But what suits us best about Wine Valley is that we get to practice there quite a bit and it won’t take us as long to get accustomed to the speed of the greens.”
Most of the out-of-town teams will arrive a day early and are afforded a Saturday practice round at Wine Valley, the Whitman coach noted.
And McClure is eager to get a look at all of his team’s NWC rivals.
“We played against Whitworth at Quail Ridge in Clarkston two weeks ago, and we know that they are always very strong,” McClure said. “And last weekend at Quail Valley, Linfield showed us how good they are by shooting a 599.
“Whitworth and Linfield are two of the best teams, but you can’t count out Pacific Lutheran and University of Puget Sound. They are probably going to be very good, too, and we haven’t seen them yet.”
Dyar shot back-to-back 1-over-par 73s last weekend at Quail Valley to earn his No. 1 position. Senior Jeff Burks opened the fall season with a 74 at Quail Ridge and followed up with rounds of 74 and 77 at Quail Valley and will play No. 2 for the Missionaries this weekend.
The tournament format allows teams to enter six players and count the top four scores each day. McClure will round out his team-scoring roster with freshman Daniel Hoffman at No. 3, sophomore Scott Martin at No. 4, freshman Connor Hood at No. 5 and junior Jordan Dixon at No. 6.
Dixon earned his spot on the scoring team Wednesday when he beat out sophomore Nathan Fisher by a single shot in a nine-hole playoff, even though Fisher knocked his tee shot into the cup from 135 yards out for a hole-in-one on the par-3 No. 14 hole. Fisher will compete this weekend as an individual.
Coach Skip Molitor’s Whitman women’s team will take six players to Spokane. Five will be designated for team-scoring purposes, and the top four shooters will count each day.
Junior Catelyn Webber will play No. 1 for the Missionaries, followed by sophomore Kelly Sweeney, senior Tate Head, freshman Alyssa Maine, and either senior Caitlin Holland or junior Katie Zajicek. Holland and Zajicek were scheduled to meet in a late-week playoff to determine who would play for the team and who would compete as an individual.
Molitor looks for George Fox to be the favorite again this weekend in Spokane.
“We have run into Fox twice, and they have bettered us both times,” Molitor said. “Last weekend they shot the low 36-hole score in the nation for an NCAA Division III school.”
What separates the Bruins from the rest of the Northwest Conference field is Kelsey Morrison, who was last weekend’s medalist at Quail Valley with rounds of 70 and 75.
“We have a team with good depth, with all of the girls shooting within a few shots of each other,” Molitor said. “But George Fox has someone who is always shooting right around par.
“Kelsey Morrison is a strong contender for national player of the year in Division III.”
Molitor believes his team has made steady progress during a challenging fall season that has taken the Missionaries to three difficult courses with a fourth on tap this weekend.
“This is certainly the most ambitious September we have ever had,” Molitor said. “But it puts us in position where we are tremendously advanced from where we were a month ago. It certainly makes us well prepared for the Fall Classic.”
Both of Whitman’s teams close out the fall portions of their schedules Oct. 27-28 at the Northwest Fall Classic at the Tri-Mountain Golf Club in Ridgefield, Wash. It’s the only fall tournament that counts toward the Northwest Conference championship and an automatic berth in next spring’s NCAA Division III National Championships.