Hutch's Prairie Dunes on national stage

By Steve Sell
May 27, 2014

Tuesday's tidbits...

• DUNES ON DISPLAY — It was fun watching the NCAA National Golf Championships on television Monday from famed Prairie Dunes Country Club in nearby Hutchinson.

I have had the fortunate pleasure of having played The Dunes at least a half-dozen times and even broke 80 a couple of times.

But after watching the collegians on Monday (the tourney continues today and Wednesday on The Golf Channel), it makes me wonder if I was playing a different course.

I have played nearly 100 courses during my nearly 50-year golfing experience and few are more difficult than Prairie Dunes. The collegians have had to deal with the gamut of Kansas’ ever-changing weather elements, but surprisingly wind hasn’t really been one of them. They trudged through numerous rains delays and some humidity, but they haven’t encountered the 30 mph. winds that make The Dunes a monster.

Without the wind and playing on super-soft greens, the collegians have turned The Dunes into a virtual dart contest. Having hit numerous balls into the countless number of traps and the up-to-your knees plum thickets, how these collegians can shoot 63s, 64s and 65s is mind-boggling. Holes where I would hit driver and a hybrid into the green are nothing more than driver-wedge or driver-9-iron. They are peppering the flags on difficult holes like Nos. 8, 9 and 16, making birdies by the bunches.

This tournament was a great get for Hutchinson. It has hosted the U.S. Men’s Senior Open and Women’s U.S. Open in the past, both tournaments I had the pleasure of attending. I even got a chance to talk with Tom Watson at the Senior Open, and had a brief chat with Annika Sorenstam at the Women’s Open. It’s amazing to watch these pros in person, because they don’t seem to miss a shot.

• STATE GOLF TODAY — Speaking of golf, McPherson High’s Dylan Blosser is competing today in the Class 4A State Tournament at Firekeeper Golf Course just outside of Topeka, while the Hesston High team is in Cheney, site of 3A.

Blosser is making his third straight state appearance as he’s competing as a medalist. He qualified last week at the regional in Wamego, making the cut right on the number. He should be able to freewheel it as he’ll have no team pressure and that should allow him to relax and enjoy his round. Firekeeper is one of top newer courses in Kansas and should be a good test.

Grady Pauls’ Hesston Swathers were second last week in their regional and they’re  playing at Cherry Oaks, a course I’ve had the pleasure of playing and it always is in top shape. The Swathers certainly rate an excellent chance at an upper-division finish.

It’s too bad the state tournament format changed many years ago. When I was in high school, state was a two-day, 36-hole event. To me, that was more of a true test as it proved which teams and players were the most consistent. When Independence Country Club hosted a state event in 1976, Garden City had a player catch lightning in a bottle with a first-day 69, but then crashed to earth the second day with an 86.

McPherson High won its only state championship in 1991, a team that I had the good fortune to be an assistant coach for. Ironically, the tournament was also held at Independence that year and the underdog Bullpups captured the title, with Skip Pankwich earning medalist honors and Brian Stauffer taking second. Other members of the team were Chandler Nelson (who also had a Top 10 that year), Craig Harms, Rory Berke and Phil Fendt. Cliff Hawkes was the head coach.

• A ROYAL STINKER — The biggest crowd since Opening Day greeted the Royals Monday night as they expected to get back to the .500 mark against baseball’s worst team, the Houston Astros (who they recently swept in Houston in overwhelming fashion).

The crowd should have been given its money back.

The Royals turned in a stinker of a lifeless performance and were scuttled in embarrassing fashion.

They continued their streak of homerless games (they haven’t homered since May 18 when Alex Gordon hit two) and are on pace to hit less than 70. To make matters worse, prized pitcher Yordano Ventura left the game with elbow soreness, which in this day and age sets off fire alarms.

KC manager Ned Yost insists there’s no ligament damage, but I have a feeling this is going to be much worse than he expects.

The Royals are almost in desperation mode. They need to win these final two games against Houston to get back to .500, then they’ll stare down the barrel at a brutal stretch — four at surprise AL East leader Toronto, four with St. Louis (two in KC, two in St. Louis) and then four at home with the New York Yankees. If the Royals aren’t out of the race after those 12 games (I am predicting 3-9), I’ll be surprised.