Medalist Johns tries to find winner's circle at local tournament

Stephanie Johns has made two attempts at winning the Southern Oregon Golf Tournament.

If her third try isn't successful this week, she may have the moniker of best player never to claim the women's division title.

"I would love to go out and win it this year," Johns said Wednesday after shooting a 3-under-par 70 for medalist honors in qualifying for the 80th annual event at Rogue Valley Country Club. "Who knows where I'll be next year. I'll be finished with school, and I don't know if I'll be here to play in it. I'd love to go out and take it this year."

Johns isn't setting her sights on a professional career, but she's not ruling it out, either. Depending on the economy, it might be the best job option available to the Portland State senior.

Johns' tally was the best women's score by seven shots on a day when players in the women's and senior women's divisions and most out-of-towners qualified.

The tournament turns to match play today and continues through Monday, when all championships will be decided.

Amanda Nealy, herself a two-time champion, qualified with a 77. She was followed by Linda Johnson and Kelly Loeb with 78s and Aubrie Street with an 80.

In the senior women's division, Bogey Loyd shot 84 and is medalist. Judy Johnson tallied 86 and Joan Dickerson 87.

Chris Polski, a 3-handicap player from Eugene, shot 68 to tie Brooks Newsom, who qualified Tuesday, for medalist honors in the men's division. They will play off for the trophy Friday.

Other top scores Wednesday in the men's division were 71 by John Warner and 72 by Casey King.

In the senior division, Stein Swenson turned in a 76.

Johns, a former Ashland High standout, now fills that role on the PSU women's golf team. In her first year of competition — she transferred from the University of Nevada — Johns was selected to the all-Big Sky Conference team.

She's set the course record the past two summers at Centennial Golf Club during the city championships and has generally distinguished herself as a top-flight player.

The SOGT crown has eluded her, however, and she doesn't seem as befuddled by that as others.

"I mean, honestly, I'm more of a stroke-play player than match-play player," said Johns. "I don't have a lot of experience with it. College is all stroke play. The last two years, it's been more like trying to figure out how to play my opponent. We'll see how it goes this year."

In her debut two years ago, Johns was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Calista Crenshaw, 5 and 4.

Last year, Trina Jones dispatched Johns in the semifinals. Jones rallied from two holes down with five to play and triumphed with an 8-foot make on No. 18.

Jones, runner-up the year before, went on to defeat Loeb for the crown.

Johns' goal this time around is to not pay attention to and play shots based on what her opponent is doing.

"I get rattled and pay attention to the other person's game, and that's not what you should be doing," said Johns, who will have friends and former high school teammates Stephanie and Elaina Graham caddie for her and keep the mood light. "They'll help me keep more in focus."

Johns was zeroed in on Wednesday. She was 4 under on the front nine, then started the back side with a birdie.

"I thought, 'Oh, I'm on a roll. This is great,'" said Johns.

Then she took a double bogey on the par-5 12th, erasing the euphoria. She snap-hooked her drive into a tree line, punched out, then hit a 180-yard 5-iron into a greenside bunker. She got out, only to three-putt.

"On the back, my driver wasn't hitting the fairways," she said. "I hit the back nine and was just saving pars."

She played in a group that included Jones, who, as the defending champion, didn't have to qualify and is seeded No. 1 in the bracket. She was runner-up two years ago to Johnson.

If medalist Johns and Jones keep winning, they'll meet in the finals.

Polski, 22, is in his third SOGT and plans to turn pro eventually.

He'd like to have hardware from here, first.

"It's a really good tournament, it's prestigious," he said. "It goes back 80 years and has a long history. It's always fun to win those kinds of tournaments, but you try to win every tournament, whether it's your club championship, the Southern Oregon or the U.S. Amateur."

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