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Local pros, amateurs get ready to swing into new golf season

Eric Johnson goes on tour, leaving Sentry/Giusti Memorial field wide open

The local golf scene is starting to pick up, and next month the Sentry/Giusti Memorial will crown a new champion.

But last year's winner, Eric Johnson, won't be a contender: he will be on the Buy.Com Tour instead.

Johnson has a full exemption and expects to play in nearly all of the 28 Buy.Com events.

'With what we're playing for, the money and the positioning for the PGA Tour, my commitment has to be there,' says Johnson, who won the Giusti by six strokes.

The Giusti is the first major tournament in the Pacific Northwest section of the PGA.

Johnson, whose shoulder injury has healed, does plan to play in another local event, the Space Age Fuel Ice Berg Open at Rose City on March 30-31.

The 36-hole Ice Berg will have a purse of just under $10,000 and a field of 50 pros and 130 amateurs. Fred Haney, last year's Pacific Northwest Senior PGA Player of the Year, is among those entered.

To get reacquainted with the course, Johnson recently played Rose City for the first time in 17 years.

'I was pleasantly surprised with the condition of the greens and the overall condition of the golf course,' he said.

The Guisti event is set for April 26-30 at Riverside Golf & Country Club. The three-day tourney will be preceded by a two-day corporate pro-am. The pros play with amateurs but compete individually for $107,000.

Two-time winner Don Bies will again play in the Giusti tournament. Others expected to compete include past winner Pat Fitzsimons; Bill Porter, last year's runner-up; and Jeff Coston. Bies, a member of the PGA Senior Tour, won in 1986 and 1987, both times in sudden-death playoffs.

Portland Golf Club's Chris Mitchell and Porter, teaching pro at Lakeview Golf & Country Club in Soap Lake, Wash., are favorites this year.

'They're veterans; they know how to play tight golf courses, which this is; and they're both good putters,' says Dave Miller, assistant pro at Riverside. 'The combination of those three things sets them apart from the rest of the field.'

The Sentry/Giusti was launched in 1981. 'A year after Al Giusti passed away, Al's wife, Jeannette, and his son, Larry, started this to raise money for cancer research, which was Al's last request,' says Sandy Rich, tournament director.

The next major local tourney after the Giusti is the Oregon Golf Association's Tournament of Champions, May 4-5, at Heron Lakes. It features the best amateurs in Oregon. All entrants are past men's and women's club champions.

Anthony Arvidson of Portland Golf Club won a year ago in a playoff with Brad Liken. Kailin Downs from Bend Golf & Country Club won her second straight women's title last year.