Vince Palladino has entered many an Idylwylde Invitational Golf Tournament as one of the favourites. But for the first time in more than a decade, he will also be carrying the mantle of "defending champion."
Palladino, who captured a record-setting sixth championship at Canada's longest-running match play event last July, was on hand Wednesday afternoon at a media reception at the golf and country club, with the 65th version of the competition only days away.
"I love the tournament and I want to be here as often as I can be, and I want to be competitive," Palladino said.
Despite not playing nearly as often as in his late teens and early 20s, the long-time local businessman was absolutely ecstatic with his performance in 2011, displaying that ability to really bring it all together over three consecutive days.
"Last year ranks among the best I've every played," he said. "Maybe in 1992, I had as much game as I did last year. If you think of last year, I never went past the 16th hole (in any match) and I don't think I could ever say that before."
While his game has certainly evolved over time, Palladino is also pleased with the development of his home course, one in which he takes great pride sharing with other top golfers from across the province.
"In general, the course is a lot greener than it ever was," Palladino said. "Right now, you're not seeing the ball run out as much. It certainly plays longer, although on paper it doesn't look like a long golf course."
If Palladino is to repeat, there's a chance that on top of the annual contenders to the throne, he might well run head-to-head into Dave Bunker, one of Ontario's most decorated amateur golfers.
The Brampton native, who captured the Ontario Mid-Amateur Championship in three consecutive years running from 2008 through to 2010, has never previously entered the Idylwylde Invitational, though he did get an initial look at the course in 2010, competing in the Ontario Amateur Golf Championship at the same venue.
He will head to Sudbury carrying a little momentum, having finished second to Drew Symons at the Investors Group Mid-Amateur at Cobble Beach Golf Links in June and placing seventh last week at the Ontario Amateur Championship against many athletes several years his junior. In fact, every one of the six competitors who finished ahead of the 47-year-old golfer were sandwiched between the ages of 20 and 22.
Understandably, tournament chair Robert Coe is pleased to be able to add a player of Bunker's calibre to the field, though he said players come north for a few very good reasons.
"The quality of play and word of mouth," Coe said. "Top players don't get a lot of opportunity to get this kind of a format. And while the golf is outstanding, there is also a fun factor to this event."
There is also a uniqueness to match play golf that can sometimes help level the playing field, relative to pure stroke play events, according to Coe, who is celebrating his 14th year at the helm.
"Because of the format, if you have one bad hole, you're not out of the tournament," he said. "If you're not 100 per cent on your game, you can still win a very tough match."
Blind River native Jay Jewett had a streak of five straight appearances in the championship flight snapped one year ago, and he fully agrees with the assessment of the tournament chair.
"You really have two tournaments in one," Jewett explained. "On Friday, you really look to be consistent, don't make any big numbers and come in with a decent score, so that you position yourself for the weekend.
"On the weekend, you can be more aggressive, where a double or triple (bogey) isn't really going to hurt you — it's only one hole."
That advice has seemingly worked its way through to a complete newcomer to the tournament — New Zeland junior golf sensation Antony McCullough.
A student at the University of Otago back home, McCullough met former Idylwylde golf pro Ryan Bastien in New Zealand, after the Canadian golfer accepted a position at McCullough's home course. Sharing information, McCullough soon found himself in northern Ontario, working for the summer at the Idylwylde Golf and Country Club.
Boasting a fairly impressive golf résumé, McCullough was granted entry into this year's Invitational, comfortable in the knowledge he has gained playing 50 to 60 rounds on his new course.
"The big piece of advice is to get through Friday," he said. "That, and keeping the ball below the hole. Coming from a links course back home, I'm just a wee bit happy that the greens are firm.
"This is a great risk-reward course," McCullough added. "You have to put the ball in the fairway. You play this golf course more from the tee to the green. Back home, you work you're way back a lot more."
Come Friday, McCullough and more than 190 golfers will look to crack the top 16, giving themselves a shot at the gruelling match play marathon that ends late Sunday afternoon after four rounds of golf in roughly 36 hours.
Posted by Laurel Myers