After winning the past two Kitchen Creek Classic men’s titles, and fresh off earning honourary all-American honours at a U.S. national golf tournament in Tulsa, Okla., it’s quite clear Gareth Payne knows how to compete under pressure.
And now Payne will be looking to handle the pressure of winning his third-straight Classic here this weekend.
Payne, 22, an Atikokan native who golfs in Oklahoma on a college scholarship, won the past two Kitchen Creek titles with a pair of six-stroke margins over Walter Keating of Thunder Bay, currently playing for a college team in Ohio.
Payne only committed to playing in the two-day, 36-hole tournament on Monday while Keating confirmed he won’t be attending this year.
Keating, instead, will be spending the weekend playing in the Canadian amateur championships in Prince Edward Island.
Still, Kitchen Creek pro Gord Workum said this year’s Classic will boast a competitive field, with past winners—Al Markowski and Rob Badiuk—looking to end Payne’s run.
As of Monday morning, 110 golfers from Northwestern Ontario and International Falls had registered for the Classic, which goes Saturday and Sunday with a pair of shotgun starts at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
But Workum said he expected more golfers to register by today’s deadline, adding he hopes the tournament attracts the same number of golfers (170) as last year.
While high winds wreaked havoc on the golfers—and their scores—last August, Workum predicted this year’s winner would have to card a pair of par rounds (72) or better to taste victory.
Playing at 6,424 yards, Kitchen Creek is not considered to be a particularly “long” course but Workum noted the addition of the three new tees on Nos. 8, 9 and 13 have made it somewhat longer than last year’s tournament.
“It’s average [in length], with the long courses around 6,800 to 7,000 yards," said Workum. "But it’s not an easy course. It can still be a tough course.”
The key to shooting a low round, he noted, are the “scoring” holes from the par-three 13th to the five straight par-fours from the 14th to 18th.
“If [the golfers] do well there, they’ll have a good day,” Workum predicted.
But Payne said he felt the key to a good score was the start of the front nine, which boasts a pair of par-fives at the second and third holes (476 and 447 yards, respectively).
“If you score early, holes one, two and four are [possible] birdie holes so a player can get out to two-under after four holes,” said Payne, who placed 17th overall at the Tulsa tournament earlier this summer.
“And then, if you play even or under on [Nos.] 13, 14 and 15—you should score well,” he added.
But while the golfers can control their own game, what they can’t control is the weather—which can change how Kitchen Creek plays.
“Right now, the course is playing fast and hard, and if there’s a wind, the ball will tend to roll off-line,” said Kitchen Creek greens superintendent Greg Ross.
“If there’s a wind, the tough holes to watch out for to keep the ball on the fairway would be Nos. 6, 14 and 16,” he added.
But wind is something Payne is used to playing against while on the links in Oklahoma, an area known as “tornado alley.”
“It’s windy all the time down there so you just have to go out there and play 18 holes and not worry about the wind because you can’t do anything about it,” he reasoned.
On the bright side, Kitchen Creek, which was devastated by a deluge of freezing rains back in late October and November, leaving several of the greens and fairways suffering from ice damage, is in fine shape heading into the weekend.
Ross said the greens are in “pretty good [condition] considering the winter," and, like the fairways, are "playing hard and fast.”
“We’re going to move the pins around [for this weekend], have some of them up front and some at the back, to give the greens a different look,” he added.