By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Lan Gooch has experienced the thrill of winning the Butch Lambert Invitational – he’s won the 36-hole golf tournament four of the last five years.
This week, however, the 2011 champion plans to become only an interested spectator for the 28th edition of the Mississippi Golf Association-sanctioned event.
“My decision not to play was from a combination of things,” said Gooch, the club professional at the tournament’s home course – Saltillo’s Natchez Trace Golf Club. “Mainly, I wanted to focus on putting on a good tournament.”
“I haven’t played much golf, so I don’t want to embarrass myself,” he added, then laughed.
The one year Gooch didn’t win, 2010, he didn’t play. Former Tupelo High standout Bo Reed won the stroke-play event that year.
“I definately enjoying playing in the Butch Lambert,” Gooch said. “I love competing. The year I didn’t play I had just as much fun watching everybody else.
“I’m looking forward to watching this year.”
Gooch credits grounds superintendent Matt Rollins for having the par 72, 6,600-yard course in “super” condition for play Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve never seen the course in better shape,” Gooch said. “The greens and fairways will be firm and fast. It will be a good test of golf for everyone.”
Three-time Lambert champion Mark Enis, who last won in 2004, has dubbed the Natchez Trace layout, his home venue, a “short course with teeth.”
Enis wants the greens and fairways to play fast.
“The more difficult it is to play, the better chance I have,” he said. “Matt Rollins has done an awesome job on this course. Nobody can complain.”
Belden brothers Michael Hodges and Vince Hodges are entered and should be considered contenders along with Enis, Fulton’s Rickey Riley, Baldwyn’s Nick Armstrong and 2012 Tupelo High player Wilson Reeder.
“I think it’s going to be very competitive,” Gooch said. “The course is set up for a fair test of golf.”
Following Saturday’s first round, the field will be flighted for Sunday’s final 18 holes. As of today, 80 players had entered the tournament. Players are also playing to earn points in the MGA standings.
The tournament is played in honor of the late Butch Lambert, who was an SEC football official, State Tax Commissioner and member of the state’s House of Representatives.