Who Will Win Championship Series Title?

     Josh Fischer is stoked about the 2011 Championship Series. He should be. Fischer is one of a handful of players who have an opportunity to win the inaugural Championship Series title.
     The Championship Series of the Society of Hickory Golfers is a series of four events, the whole sponsored by Mountain Valley Spring Water. Point totals have been awarded for first through 30th place in each event. The champion in Open and Senior divisions will be crowned following the fourth and final event at the Mid Pines Hickory Open, Nov. 4-6.
     “I’ve had the dates to the Championship Series circled on my calendar since they were released, and the people organizing the events have done a great job,” Fischer said. “I’ve played golf since I was 7 and this is the most fun I’ve had playing the sport.”
     Fischer, the VP of marketing for Louisville Golf, is in strong contention for the inaugural CS title, should he play well and his closest competitors falter just a bit. A solid player who works off an 8.3 handicap, Fischer is excited about the fourth and final leg of the CS crown.
     “No way would I miss Mid Pines,” he says. “I have fond memories of the course and clubhouse even before I played in the hickory event. The staff and ownership do such a great job there. My goals will be to continue improving my scores and staying focused hitting one shot at a time. If I do those two things I’ll be happy no matter what the results are.”

     The results could go in very different ways, depending on who makes it to the event and who plays well.
     As might be expected, the players with the highest totals have managed to compete in all three of the Championship Series events preceding Mid Pines – the Southern 4-Ball, the U.S. Hickory Open and the Heart of America. Other possible winners have placed in the top three in at least two of the events.
     Rick Woeckener, of Fredricksburg, Va, holds a commanding lead to this point in the Championship division. If he plays and finishes either first or second, he will win the CS title.
     Woeckener, a vitamin salesman, has a nearly scratch handicap, and is looking forward to Mid Pines. “The course sets up well for my game and I hope to take advantage of that this year,” he said.
     Like Fischer, Woeckener likes the CS format. “I think it is great to have this type of format for our group.  It gives us all something extra to play for than just each individual tournament.”
     Other scenarios for a CS title include Ben Hollerbach, of Chamblee, Ga. Hollerbach is a design engineer for Georgia Tech’s Nanotechnology Research Center. He plays about six times a month, half those rounds with hickories. His hickory handicap is 4 and he does plan on coming to Mid Pines.
     “If you had asked me my chances prior to the second round at French Lick I would have been pretty confident,” he said. “But after that final round I feel that I need to re-evaluate my game before I’m ready to compete at Mid Pines.”
     Hollerbach said he learned to play on Ross courses in western North Carolina and is comfortable on those designs, but, he adds “I have not been to Mid Pines in more than 15 years and remember little about the course.”
     His money is on Woeckener. But if Woeckener finishes third and Hollerbach finishes first, Hollerbach will win the CSCD. Woeckener can finish as low as third and win the title if Hollerbach finishes no higher than second place.
     Fischer has an outside chance to win the CS title if he takes first place, Woeckener finishes no better than fourth and Hollerbach finishes no better than second.
     Other contenders are waiting in the wings should the top players fail to deliver. Patrick Boyd, Alan Grieves (Brisbane, Aus.) or Chris Wiemers (Omaha, Neb.) can win if Woeckener finishes no better than fifth, Hollerbach no better than second and Fischer no better than second. As Alan has returned to Australia and it is unlikely he will return to the states this year, he may be safely left out of the betting, er, the race, that is.
     Roger Andrews of Jenks, Okla., can claim the championship if he takes first place, Woeckener finishes no better than eighth, Hollerbach no better than second and Fischer no better than second. But, he is uncertain whether his schedule will allow him to attend this year.
     Andrews, who plays to a 3-4 handicap, won Mid Pines in 2009 as well as the U.S. Hickory Open. And, he allows, Mid Pines is, so far, his favorite hickory course.
     “It is obvious that the people who are playing in the series are all quite capable of winning the point totals, but my favorite would be Rick Woeckener due to his consistently being in the top 3-7,” Andrews said.
     Should Andrews schedule allow him to participate, Mid Pines’ premium on accurate approach shots works to his advantage, he says. ‘The course sets up well for me as my strengths tend to be accuracy off of the tee and with the iron shots.”
     What troubles him most about Mid Pines are those “tricky” Donald Ross greens.
     Doug Floyd, of Decatur, Ala., is a long shot candidate for the title. A retired GM employee, Floyd would have to win Mid Pines, Woeckener would have to finish no better than 11th place, Hollerbach no better than third, Fischer no better than third and Boyd, Grieve, Wiemers and Andrews no better than second. But, like Andrews, Floyd is not sure he can attend this year’s event.

     Over in the Senior ranks, the competition is largely between three individuals, although Lang Willie (Bill Engelson, Pinehurst, N.C.) could win in a dark horse upset should he finish first and Max Hollon (Evansville, Ind.), Eric Wagner (Charlottesville, Va.) and Mike Just (Louisville, Ky.) somehow all three fail to show up at Mid Pines. Barring that eventuality, here’s how it could shape up.
     A retired high school chemistry/physics teacher, Hollon will win outright if he finishes first. He could also win if he finishes second and Wagner finishes no higher than third. He will also win if he places third, Wagner no higher than fourth and Just no higher second. Hollon might also place fourth and become the Senior CS champ if  Wagner does no better than third and Just no better than second. There could be a playoff if Hollon finishes third, Wagner second and Just no higher than fourth. Wagner will win the division if he wins at Mid Pines.
     Hollon said he enjoys the competitions, which “have been well organized and well run”, and plans on being at Mid Pines. He plays off a 16-17 handicap. “I think my chances will be good if I play up to my capabilities,” he said. Hollon’s chances might also improve if grandson, Spencer, 12, is on grandpa’s bag, as he was in French Lick.
     As for the owner of Louisville Golf, Just plays to a 15.8 handicap and finds himself in the thick of things for the Senior division title. He has a chance to win outright if he finishes first, Wagner does no better than second and Hollon no better than third.
     “Since I didn’t play in the Heart of America event, I didn’t think I would be in contention, so this is a pleasant surprise for me,” he said.
     Just, who plays hickories exclusively and gets out to play about once a week (“not nearly enough”) plans on playing at Mid Pines, a course he enjoys. “I have played in the Mid Pines every year but the first year. The course plays long for me, but since I now play in the Senior division it’s more manageable.”
     On the basis of several rounds together, Just thinks Hollon has a good opportunity for the title. “He is really a solid player, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Mid Pines. There are some other guys like Eric Wagner and Bill Engelson who have played that course a lot and I think that gives them an advantage.
     “I have so much fun at these events, score is secondary,” Just said. “I just play one shot at a time and the score just happens.”
     Whatever happens, it’s going to be an exciting finish to what has been a torrid season of hickory golf. From deadly tornadoes that nearly turned the Southern 4-Ball into matchsticks to sweltering heat at the U.S. Hickory Open, it has been an adventure for hickory golfers this season.
     “We are extremely pleased with the Championship Series so far,” said Breck Speed, owner of Mountain Valley Spring Water, the event’s sponsor. “The excitement that the Series and associated point system has given to the overall season is clearly reflected in the U.S. Hickory Open field which was up over 30 percent.”
     Speed said participation at the Heart of America tournament was restricted by a limited number of playing times afforded by the host club, otherwise it would have been up sharply as well.
     “I suspect if anyone is interested in playing Mid Pines they should get their entries in early as it may sell out as well,” he said.

     Based on what’s been happening so far, it might be best to heed Speed’s advice. If you haven’t already, pencil in the dates – Nov. 4-6 – for the Mid Pines Hickory Open and make plans to attend. Click here for information or to register for the tournament.