First Posted: 7/16/2009
LUMBERTON The 29th annual Jerry Johnson Robeson County Golf Association Golf Championship could be a coronation.
Kyle Covington, who has won the event three straight years and five of the last six, will be vying for his sixth RCGA title, the most in tournament history.
“It’d be nice to win a sixth, since no one has ever done it,” Covington said. “I’d like to win again, but if I don’t win six, then I don’t win six. Dyrck (Fanning) has five and Scott (Benton) has four, it’d be nice. I grew up playing around those guys and always kind of looked up to them as far as playing better. It’d be nice to have my name up there.”
Fanning, who won titles in 1988, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2005, is also looking for a record sixth RCGA title. Fanning also has on his resume the 1981 Cumberland County Golf Championship, giving him six county championships overall.
“I’ve got my five, but I hope I’m not through with five,” said Fanning. “I’ve had my share of good and I hope I’m not through with my good.”
Benton, who is seeking his fifth title, last won in 1992, when a string of three straight ended. He thinks the course setup this year could work to his advantage.
“I think driving the ball will be a factor,” said Benton, who is considered one of the top ball-strikers in the county. “The rough is up and could make it difficult.”
Benton said he planned to do some work on his short game to prepare for the tournament and his effort to end an 18-tournament dry spell and join Fanning and Covington with five crowns.
“I’ve been close a lot,” Benton said. “I just got to work hard, stay patient and try to make some putts.”
During the 2008 championship, Covington defeated Benton on the second playoff hole by dropping in a 12-foot birdie putt.
“I don’t know what it is,” Covington said. “The way it usually happens for me on Sunday, you hit it left in the rough and kicks back into the fairway. It doesn’t feel the same on Sundays. I just somehow hit the ball a little better when I’m nervous. I didn’t start out well last year, somehow, it just seems to work out for me on Sundays. It might be luck, I don’t know. No telling how long that streak might last.”
Fanning pulled out of last year’s tournament with a neck injury.
“I chose a bad time to sleep wrong,” Fanning said.
Fanning has a simple strategy to take home his sixth title this year.
“I just gotta make some birdies,” he said. “The days of hitting even par and then having six birdies over the weekend are gone. You’ve got to get it below 210.”
Tad Wood finished one stroke out of the playoff in 2008 after leading at the end of the second round.
“Kyle is just comfortable out there at that course,” Wood said. “It’s his course, it’s his event and each year he just gets more and more confident. Nothing really rattles him and he is so comfortable.”
Wood even compared Covington to the PGA’s best.
“It’s going to take three good, solid rounds to beat Kyle, because he’s not going to falter,” said Wood. “He’s long, he’s accurate and he can putt. He just doesn’t have any weaknesses. I guess it’s kind of like how the guys feel about Tiger Woods. When Kyle is on his game, he almost can’t be beat.
Among the other golfers who could contend are Mark Kinlaw, who won the event in 1993, 1995 and 2001; Jeff Wishart, a three-time match-play champion at Pinecrest; Taylor Ferguson, a golfer at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke; Steve Pippin, a former UNCP golfer; Ian Locklear, a Purnell Swett High golfer; Ryan Bass, a golfer at Lumberton High; Tommy Britt; Phillip Wallwork; Jay Floyd; John Haskins; Richard Miller; and Bobby Campbell.
There are 31 players competing in the Open Division. They will play Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Wishart, the secretary and treasurer of the Robeson County Golf Association, which sponsors the tournament, said 97 golfers have signed up for the tournament. This year will be the first for the Juniors Division, which has eight competitors. They will tee off on Friday and end their tournament on Saturday.
Competition in the Regular, Ladies, Seniors divisions, begins Saturday and ends Sunday.
Lea Helper is the defending champion in the Ladies Division. She’s won nine county titles.
Truman Lowry won the Senior Division crown in 2008 with a two-day score of 1-over-par 145, while Warner Hall bested Lemark Harris in the Regular Division.
Wishart thinks Covington’s dominance helps the tournament.
“I don’t think it hurts, I think it’s a good thing,” Wishart said. “We have a bunch of people aiming at him this year. It kind of inspires them to play hard because they don’t want to see him run away with anything.”
In addition to Benton, Wood, Fanning and other challengers, Wishart expects his home course to put up a defense as well.
“We’ve made some major changes to the course,” Wishart said. “We have a new driving range and hole No. 1 has been redesigned a little bit. They moved it over and changed the bunker and narrowed the fairways to accommodate the driving range. There are some new improvements going on No. 8, but they won’t be done by the time the tournament comes around. Other than that, the course is in good shape. The grass is growing and the rough is going to be very tough and penal.”