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Albany Amateur Championship kicks off three-course battle at Doublegate

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Bubba Burt can't wait to see who shows up at the Albany Amateur Championship today when four divisions of golfers -- mens, men's mid-am, women's and men's seniors -- begin the three-day event that takes place at three area golf courses.

"When it comes to me playing golf, you never know who is going to show up,'' joked Burt, who won the seniors' title a year ago. "I have the reputation for being one of the most inconsistent golfers any of my friends know. And that's not good for a three-day championship.''

For this tournament, which is in its sixth year, there will be more golfers than in years past, and a new division, the men's mid-am, which requires men to be at least 25 years old. The men's division has no minimum age, and the senior's division is for golfers 55 or older.

The women's division has no age requirement, and that's just fine with defending champ Kathryn Fowler, a freshman at Ole Miss from Americus who will face a field that includes two other defending champs -- Helen Kirbo, who won the title in 2004 and again in 2007, and Kelly Pearce, who won the title two years ago.

Fowler just wants to compete against someone.

"It's been a while since I've had competition. I redshirted this year so I didn't play in any tournaments,'' Fowler said. "It's been a long time.''

Fowler played her first competition this year in the Southern Women's Amateur this week in Chattanooga, where she reached the semifinals in the consolation bracket. Had she won the semis, she would have been playing this weekend in Tennessee.

"It kind of all worked out,'' she said. "I'm excited about playing in the (Albany Amateur Championship). It's a fun tournament and a great thing to be involved with.''

The tournament, which began in 2004, is sponsored by U-Save-It Pharmacy and the proceeds benefit The First Tee of Albany, a youth oriented organization whose mission statement is "to improve the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf."

The tournament starts today at 7:30 a.m. at Doublegate County Club, moves to Stonebridge on Saturday and ends at Grand Island on Sunday.

"Last year Stonebridge's golfers won two of the three titles. It would be nice if we can win all four this year,'' said Fowler, a member at Stonebridge.

She won last year's tournament by 15 strokes, but she was coming off a big year as a senior at Southland Academy, where she was the top girls golfer in the GISA Class AAA state tournament all four years in high school and even tied for the state boys title as a senior.

Now she's coming off a season of practice.

"I think I made the right decision to redshirt,'' Fowler said. "It gave me a chance to settle into college life.''

She has settled in just fine. Fowler, a pre-med student, has a 4.0 GPA, and said practicing year round with her teammates approved her game.

"There's nothing like competition, though,'' Fowler said.

She will be the favorite this weekend, but the men's championship division is wide open. Defending champ, T.J. Mitchell, a Deerfield-Windsor grad who is now on the team at the University of Georgia, isn't playing.

Roy Steinberg, who was the low medalist for Darton in the regional this spring, will be one of the leading contenders. Mike Cooper, who won the men's division in 2007, will enter as the favorite to win the men's mid-am division.

The seniors? It's wide open, according to Burt.

"I wouldn't say I'm the favorite,'' said Burt, who celebrated his 60th birthday Wednesday. "It was kind of a fluke that I won it last year. I shot an 84 on the first day and had a 10 on one hole. And it was the 13th hole at Doublegate -- my home course. The hole is right across the street from my house. I see it every day.''

He still can't believe he had such a horrendous start to last year's tournament.

"Someone asked me how I shot a 10 on the hole, and I told them: 'I missed a putt for a nine,' " said Burt, who came back with a 71 on the second day and shot a 76 on the final day to win it last year. "The group of four I was in was real close. Going into the last two holes I think we were all within a stroke of each other. I ended up winning it. With me, you never know who is going to show up.''