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Baley Lehr looks to defend title at 72nd Pine Hills Invitational

Tourney field filled with more young talent this year

Baley Lehr, shown here getting ready to tee off on the first hole during last year's Pine Hills Invitational, will be looking to defend his tournament title this weekend at the 72nd annual event.
Baley Lehr, shown here getting ready to tee off on the first hole during last year's Pine Hills Invitational, will be looking to defend his tournament title this weekend at the 72nd annual event.

It has been said by athletes over the years that defending a championship can often be much tougher than winning the title the first time around.

That will be the task at hand for Baley Lehr at this weekend's 72nd annual Pine Hills Invitational at the par-70, 6,163-yard course at Pine Hills Golf Club. The historic event is scheduled for 36 holes (18 on Saturday, 18 on Sunday) to begin with the first of 90 golfers (entered as of Wednesday night) to tee off at 7 a.m. Saturday.

Lehr won his first invitational championship last year after carding a opening round 69 and weather-shortened 33 on Sunday for a 3-under 102, topping runner-up Robert Renner by one stroke and father and third-place finisher Brian Lehr by two.

"(Baley) has stepped up his game even more from last year, and even with the younger talent in this year's field, he is still going to be tough to beat," said Pine Hills Director of Golf Operations and Teaching Pro Brandon "BJ" Cooke, who added both Renner and Brian Lehr will miss this year's event still recovering from surgeries. "He bulked up over the winter with a lifting routine geared towards golf and his drives are longer and straighter. He is playing really well right now."

According to Cooke, other top local contenders include Jesse Cavanaugh, Jeremy DeBernardi, Trey Tussey (who had a two-shot lead after Saturday in 2018), Josh Gass, Lane Barbier, Alex Blumenshine, Mick Resser and Rick Lehr. 

"Six weeks ago, I made fun of Rick's driver and told him he would enjoy golf much more with woods that were made after 1990," Cooke said with a laugh. "He bought a couple of new clubs and since then he is hitting the ball noticeably longer, straighter and has shot under par every round. He has always played well in this tournament, but (the new equipment) has taken him from a top contender to one of the tournament favorites."

As in many past years, the Pine Hills Invitational has its share of talented young players entering for the first time and this year may the cream of the crop in that regard. There will also be plenty of non-local players returning that have had been on the cusp of capturing the title.

The tournament will welcome newcomers Jackson Weatherbee and Parker Govern, both seniors at Western Illinois University, as well as John Leverton and Mitchell Hockman of Nashville's Trevecca Nazarene University — all four averaging under par scoring averages.

John Finnin, last year's invitational senior champion and Chicago District Golf Association (CDGA) senior points leader, is also bringing with him some of the best amateurs in the state — most notable names being John Wright, Jim Arantes and former Putnam County High School, now Lake Forest College standout Caleb Dzierzynski.

The field will also feature a number of the traveling players that are consistently in the top 10 year after year — Byron's Brian Silvers, Rich Harvest Farms' Alex Kline-Weeden and the Oak Park area trio of Chris Beyer, Lloyd Roth and Scott Atkins.

"We have multiple new top level players due to the Joliet Amateur being postponed last weekend," said Pine Hills club manager and tournament director Jeremiah Pike. "The top amateur tournament players don't want to take multiple weeks off. This is huge for us this year and moving forward. Most players that experience our tournament come back to see us again and we hope that continues."

As the tournament weekend approaches the talk of weather and course conditions is always a hot topic. As of Wednesday night, the forecast for the weekend predicts a high of 86 on Saturday with mostly cloudy skies and 80 on Sunday with a chance of showers during the day.

"With the recent rain we've had, we are just thankful we are able to have the tournament and continue the history of it," said Pike.

"There are areas where there is still standing water out there and we don't anticipate it being gone before the weekend. It definitely has that swamp smell out there. The course isn't going to able to be played down, it's going to have to be played up. The course conditions are as good as they can be considering the weather this spring."

Pike, who says that help from Jeremy DeBernardi, Adrienne Pike, Doug McDonald and David Edwall along with work of around 30 volunteers makes everything thing go smooth. He also added that Kevin Bressendorf from Computer Spa in Ottawa is doing a tremendous job of streamlining the statistical process with software at the event to give it even more of a professional tournament feel.

"We're hoping to have live, updated scoring on a scoreboard here in the clubhouse," said Pike. "We are hoping in the near future to even have scoreboards out on the course that will relay that information to the golfers — that's stuff that you only see on the PGA Tour."

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Past winners of the Pine Hills Invitational at the Pine Hills Golf Club.

2018 — Baley Lehr

2017 — Joe Zawaski

2016 — Kevin Flack

2015 — Gabriel Aprati, Jason Buffone

2014 — Raymond Knoll

2013 — Michael Fastert

2012 — Andy Mickelson

2011 — Andy Mickelson

2010 — Andy Mickelson

2009 — Brian Lehr

2008 — Steve Kwasigroh

2007 — Ben Hermes

2006 — Tim Streng

2005 — Michael Sipula III

2004 — Terry Werner

2003 — William Sipula

2002 — Larry Vaughn

2001 — Tom Bartman

2000 — Dave Loux

1999 — Jean Lafontaine

1998 — Bill Sipula

1997 — Tom Copeland

1996 — Darran Stanek

1995 — Tom Studer

1994 — Greg Foltynewicz

1993 — Darran Stanek

1992 — Chris Carlson

1991 — Greg Foltynewicz

1990 — Mark Small

1989 — Rick TenBroeck

1988 — Rick TenBroeck

1987 — Ron Ghidina

1986 — Bill Sipula

1985 — Scott Matheson

1984 — Dave Esler

1983 — Rick TenBroeck

1982 — Scott Stillwell

1981 — Bob Abdnour

1980 — Scott Stillwell

1979 — Dave Ogrin

1978 — Dick Terry

1977 — Lloyd McWilliams

1976 — Phil Kenny

1975 — Steve Cisco

1974 — Bill Stillwell

1973 — Bruce Houdak

1972 — Joel Hirsch

1971 — Peter Summers

1970 — Ron Ghidina

1969 — Ron Ghidina

1968 — Ron Ghidina

1967 — Ray Chamberlin

1966 — Ray Farro

1965 — Ray Farro

1964 — Ray Farro

1963 — Ron Ghidina

1962 — Malcolm Logan

1961 — Dale Schofield

1960 — Remo Crovetti

1959 — Don Essig

1958 — James King

1957 — Ray Farro

1956 — William Stricklen

1955 — Ray Farro

1954 — Dante Vicini

1953 — Dante Vicini

1952 — Dave Logan

1951 — Gus Moreland

1950 — Mike Stolarik

1949 — Leo Massa

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