By DAVID CLAYBOURN
Last year Eric Kelly and his partner, Billy Blankenship, ran away with the first Monster Ball Craig Bowers Memorial Golf Tournament in Greenville, winning by six shots.
Kelly will try to win again in the 36-hole event at Wright Park Municipal and Oak Creek Country Club. But this time with a new partner, Matt Neyra.
The tournament, which starts today and wraps up on Sunday, is named for Craig “Monster” Bowers, who grew up in Greenville and was an avid golfer as well as a high school baseball player and basketball player, an assistant basketball coach for the Greenville Lions and an assistant principal at Royse City High School. Bowers died in a skiing accident last year in Colorado.
Kelly and Blankenship fired an 11-under 59 at Wright Park and then an 11-under 61 at Oak Creek Club to win the championship flight by six strokes with their total of 120.
Kelly’s become one of the top golfers in Greenville, having recently broken the course record at Oak Creek with a 9-under par round of 63.
Neyra has also been one of the city’s top golfers, having played for the Greenville Lions and winning the club title at Webb Hill Country Club in nearby Wolfe City. Neyra and Lauren Wensel won the first flight with their total of 125 last year.
Bobby Bowers, one of the tournament organizers and father of the event’s namesake, called this tournament field “one of the greatest” ever.
“It’ll take some good scores to win it,” said Bowers. “I think it’ll take 25 (under) to win.”
Corey Stone, who was second last year with Alan Hawkins, will be paired with former Greenville Lion standout Julian Bowers in the championship flight.
Another team to watch in that flight is former Lone Oak standout Chase Johnson and former Lion golfer Andy Carter, who played for both Greenville High School and Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Hunter Linscombe, who is paired with Brett Parry in the championship flight, played at Midwestern State.
Tony Sauls and Clint Boruk, another team in the championship flight, finished among the leaders in a previous Oak Creek tournament.
This year’s event has attracted 95 two-player teams, up from last year’s 84-team field. Tee times are at 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., with the top three flights going off today at Wright Park and the other four flights at Oak Creek. The flights will switch courses for Sunday’s final round.
Kevin Bowers, Craig’s brother, will be pursuing the first flight title with Scott Coffman, who’s finished among the leaders at several tournaments in the past at Oak Creek.
Vince Record, who was third in the first flight last year with Drew Lewis, will be paired with Wade Clark in that flight this year.
Greenville Lions Athletic Hall of Fame members Keith Bonham and Jerry Jolley will be one of the teams to watch in the second flight. They’ll challenge last year’s winners, Danny Ray Bowman and Toby Hooten of Lone Oak.
The father-and-son team of Brian and Kyle Gibson, who won the third flight last year, were bumped up to the second flight this time.
Don Johnson and Frankie Morgan will be back to defend their title in the sixth flight. They’ll face a strong challenge from the father-and-son team of Rick Espino and Brad Espino, who were second in the fifth flight last year.