Lakewood Country Club will host the oldest continuous amateur golf tournament in the South starting Thursday with the 73rd annual New Year's Invitational, a four-day tournament.
The full field of 124 players includes 40 with handicaps of 2 or less. Many are outstanding college players, including defending champion Kevin Mock of the University of North Florida, and others come from distant states, such as Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.
Ivan Morris is a former Irish national amateur champion who is flying in from Limerick, Ireland, for the tournament.
Mock, who is ranked 53rd in the nation by Golfweek magazine, will be challenged by these ranked players:
Jeff Klauk of Ponte Vedra Beach, ranked 17th, plays for Florida Southern and tied for second last year;
Ryuji Imada of Tampa, ranked 32nd, is a sophomore at Georgia;
Jason Dufner of Olmsted Falls, Ohio, ranked 60th, was a 1997 All-American at Auburn and the 1998 runner-up at the USGA Publinx Championship;
Matt Borchert of Orlando is a UNF teammate of Mock who tied for runner-up honors last year;
Matt Saglio of Clearwater is an Admiral Farragut Academy graduate playing for Florida Southern. He was the 1997 runner-up to;
John Corzilius of Nokomis, who is in the field.
However, the co-favorites are unranked Steve Scott and Steve Bradley of Buddy Alexander's University of Florida team. Golfweek's ranking is based on specific finishes in designated tournaments.
Scott was the runner-up to Tiger Woods in the 1996 U.S. Amateur, and Bradley has been the Gators' No. 1 player the past two seasons.
"We've got a strong, deep field this year," said Richard Hope of Lakewood, the tournament director. "There are at least a dozen who could win it."
The championship flight will consist of the low 24 scores and ties after 36 holes. Those players will then play from the blue tees.
The senior championship flight, consisting of the low eight players 55 and over, and other flights, will play the final two rounds from the white tees.
Defending senior champ Phil Leckey of St. Petersburg, who won the open championship in 1971, will be challenged for the title by his brother Richard from West Palm Beach, the New Year's Invitational open winner in 1963.
Other senior contenders include 1997 winner Gerry Maxfield of Aiken, S.C., Don Lucas of Tampa, and Lakewood member Spencer Gaylord, a consistent senior winner in the Tampa Bay area.
Coach Alexander holds the tournament record of 16-under-par 272, which he set in 1991, his sixth win here. He's not entered this year.
Tee-off time is 10 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, it's 11.
JUNIOR CHAMPION: Jenny Gleason, a senior at Clearwater High School with a 3.90 grade-point average, was on a roll over the holidays, winning three prestigious junior tournaments.
Her first win came at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Junior Christmas Classic at the par-69 Chi Chi course in the Countryside area. Playing from the white tees, Gleason shot 74.
Her next challenge was the Innisbrook Junior Classic, a 36-hole tournament that drew a strong field from the bay area. She shot 75-81_156 on the par-72 Eagle's Watch course.
Then on Dec. 28, Gleason competed in the highly competitive MacDill/Carrollwood Junior Tournament hosted by the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association. After 18 holes, she found herself in a three-way tie with Jennifer Ayers, a member of the 1998 state champion Bloomingdale girls team, and nationally ranked Mallory Code, a home-schooled student from Tampa.
Ayers left before the playoff on the 123-yard par-3 17th at MacDill's North Course, pitting Gleason against Code.
Code drove first, to within 15 feet feet, putting the pressure on Gleason.
"I knew I had to get close realizing she was in birdie range," said Gleason, a member of the Times 1998 all-Pinellas first team. "So I said to myself, "You've done this a million times.' I used a pitching wedge to hit to within 2 feet. I was pretty happy; that wasn't luck, it was skill."
Mallory putted downhill 4 feet past, then missed it coming back for a bogey.
Gleason tapped in for the birdie and the win.
"I went three-for-three in those tournaments and it's helped me gain recognition," said Gleason, a junior member at Clearwater Country Club and a volunteer at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation. "I just got back from a recruitment trip to Samford University (in (Birmingham, Ala.) and I've got another one lined up to UNC-Greensboro."
Gleason attributes her improvement and recent success to lessons learned from teaching pro Vincent Reid at Chi Chi's.
"Vincent's been helping me a lot, especially with my short game," she said. "He's a very good coach who understands me; I owe it all to him."
MORE JUNIORS: Matt Lemma, a senior at East Lake, won the boys 16-18 title at the MacDill tournament, shooting 1-under 71 to beat University of Florida-bound Jordan Code of Tampa by a stroke.
OBITUARY: The golf community lost one of its pillars on Dec. 28 with the death of Ken Beaulieu of Palm Harbor. He was president of the Glen Oaks Golf Association and a fixture as a volunteer at the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation, where he was known affectionately as "Uncle Ken."
At a funeral service at the First Assembly of God in Clearwater on Saturday, Cary Stiff, the foundation's director of development, said Beaulieu was like a beam of light wherever he went, brightening the lives of everyone he met.
"He never said an unkind word about anyone," Stiff said in a tribute. "And he always carried a jar of peanuts in his golf bag to feed the squirrels along the way."
Beaulieu was a native of Quincy, Mass., and a 1937 graduate of Brown University.