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Opinion: Kit Grove could unseat ‘Tiger’ in city championship

July 12, 2013

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Keegan's picks

Tom Keegan’s predicted order of finish in men’s championship flight:

1 . Kit Grove (+2.2 Handicap Index listed on ghin.com): He reads every green at Lawrence Country Club with the ease of a book that starts, “See John run. Run, John, run.” A clever player who knows how to make the conditions work for him, Grove must stay close on the first day to put himself in position to take advantage of his course knowledge Sunday at LCC.

2 . Conrad Roberts (+3.1): It’s no fun to pick the favorite, but Roberts sure does have a way of making winning seem simple. A native of Wales, Roberts is a gentleman’s gentleman, has remarkable concentration abilities and forever stays loose on a golf course. Will he wear a red shirt Sunday, a la Tiger Woods?

3 . Ryley Haas (+1.6): A senior on the KU golf team and a native of Colby, Haas has been on fire this summer. His 68 in the Kansas Amateur qualifier at Eagle Bend made him low medalist, one stroke ahead of Roberts. Is familiar with both courses and comes into the tourney with confidence riding high.

4 . Tyler Cummins (+1.9): For the most part, people who get into careers in the golf industry love to play the sport. Here’s the problem: You don’t get nearly enough opportunities to play golf. Cummins, a former Kansas State golfer who blends power and precision, devotes so much time to nurturing junior golf working for the Kansas Golf Association, it doesn’t leave him much time actually to play. But he certainly has the game to play well at both courses and is a contender ever year he tees it up in the city tourney.

5 . Mike Rack (0.6): Took second a year ago to Roberts. Former Nebraska golfer is a remarkably consistent ball-striker who always gives off the vibe that there is nowhere he would rather be than on a golf course competing. Positive attitude enables him to handle the pressure well.

6 . Greg Sharp (0.6): He’s a big-game hunter, a home-run hitter, forever in search of executing the great shot. He hits it a ton, especially when trying to drive a tee shot onto the green on par 4. He’s a shot-maker capable of bending the ball around trees and landing it softly onto greens, turning playing partners into spectators. But does he have it in him to dial it back and hit a conservative shot when it’s the percentage play? An ageless talent, Sharp can make Phil Mickelson look cautious by comparison.

7 . Will Gantz (0.4): You watch Gantz tee one up and reach back, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the golf ball. He crushes it. An aggressive player forever stalking birdies, he’s not afraid to take risks and brings that approach onto the putting green as well. He never leaves a birdie putt short. Nobody’s talking about him, but he hits a very loud golf ball and is capable of making a serious run at the title.

8 . John Catlin (1.0): The son of former KU football player Harley Catlin (1962-64), he relies on a compact, powerful swing and has a sweet putting stroke that tends to get better as the pressure increases.

Just because the golfers in the championship flight of the Lawrence Amateur Golf Association’s city tournament don’t slice their drives, that does not mean they don’t slice each other up with their tongues. Quite the contrary.

My intention was not to make multi-time city champion Conrad Roberts the object of endless verbal assaults when several years ago I called him “the Tiger Woods of Lawrence,” but that’s what happened. (For the record, it was a golf reference made before Eldrick “Tiger” Woods became romantically linked with a wide array of bashful porn stars, diner and cocktail waitresses, etc.)

Kit Grove, who presents a serious challenge to Roberts’ perch, remembers Roberts telling him on the course, “Please stop saying that. It’s not funny.” Grove’s retort: “OK, want me to call you Eldrick?”

The ribbing might have wiggled through Roberts’ thick skin, but the pressure of the big event never does. Woods, er, check that, Roberts has won the past six city tourneys he has entered, leaving the area’s best golfers shaking their heads.

“I mean, you gotta play bad one year in only a 36-hole tournament,” Grove said. “It’s kind of amazing because we’ve got quite a few pretty good golfers in Lawrence. You’d think one year he might not have it and somebody else puts two good rounds together. So be it, and you shake hands at the end. I mean, he’s on a pretty good run.”

This could be the year somebody finally defeats Roberts, and Grove could be that somebody. Grove finished fifth last year, and that was with a 10 on No. 18 at Alvamar Country Club.

The two players’ time as golfers at Kansas University overlapped for one year, when Roberts was a red-shirt transfer and Grove was playing his final season. For much of the time Roberts was adding to his trophy case — at some point if his dominance continues, shouldn’t the trophy be named after Roberts? — Grove was coaching the men’s golf team at KU, one season as an assistant to Ross Randall, five (2008-2012) as his successor.

“To be honest, initially, any time you move on from something you were passionate about and poured your heart and soul into it … last summer was tough,” Grove said. “The longer I’ve been out of coaching, I realize I miss coaching so little. I do miss the personal relationships I developed with some of the players.”

He said he doesn’t miss studying up on NCAA rules and in some cases trying to figure out how to reach the modern golfer.

“I don’t know if it’s the ESPN generation, everybody gets a ribbon for participating or what, but there does seem to be a little more entitlement,” Grove said. “Not everybody’s a superstar. When I was growing up, if my T-ball team only got across the plate twice and the other team got across it 14 times, they won. We all knew it, and we still went out for pizza and orange soda after the game. We live in an unbelievably competitive society. That said, so many parents have become, ‘You can’t hurt Timmy’s feelings.’”

Grove said he has known his replacement, Jamie Bermel, for years and considers him a friend and a good fit for the job.

“I think Jamie will do a good job,” Grove said. “He’s tough, no-nonsense kind of guy. You know what? You need that now.”

The distance on losing his job makes Grove all the tougher competing in the tournament that starts today at Alvamar public and concludes Sunday at Lawrence Country Club. Grove wears loud shorts and has tee shots to match. His short game is polished, his putter lethal. He plays most of his golf at Lawrence Country Club and is quite familiar with the slickest greens in town.

Grove, who tees off at 10:10 a.m. today with Roberts, Tyler Cummins and Will Gantz, knows he will need to be at his best to emerge from such a competitive field as champion.

“It just bores you,” Grove said of Roberts’ consistency. “And he’s such a good iron player. Drives it straight, hits his mid-irons so consistent. Very little curve to his golf ball. He’s a guy who just wears you out.”

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