Recreation and Leisure: Greater Slidell Golf Championship tournament will be shaped by vacuum at the top _lowres

Jack Abney

It’s said that two things in life are certain: death and taxes.

You can add a third to the list: Jack Abney wins the annual Greater Slidell Golf Championship.

You get that kind of certainty with consistency, and Abney surely has provided it since he burst onto the local scene as a teenager in the late 1980s. After a standout career at Slidell High and Tulane University, he played on several professional circuits before settling down into the private sector and starting a family.

He won his first city title in 1996, before launching his pro career. When he ended it several years later, and could play in the tournament again after regaining his amateur status, he reeled off an incredible stretch of eight consecutive titles from 2004 to 2011.

Abney’s only setback came in 2012, when former Northshore High star Robbie Rhodes wrested the championship from his grasp. A year later, Abney stormed back to claim his 10th city tournament win.

So without question, he would be the prohibitive favorite to win the 36th annual GSGC when it is held June 27-29 at Oak Harbor, Pinewood and Royal Golf clubs.

Problem is, Abney won’t be in the field when many of the best golfers in Slidell tee off this weekend. He’ll be on the road for work, and he’s disappointed he won’t be around for a chance to add to his haul of championship trophies.

“I sat down back in December and January to plan out my travel dates for work, and I left time open for the city tournament,” he said. “But I walked into the pro shop at Pinewood a couple weeks ago and saw that it’s going to be held during a time when I’m out of town. It usually follows the club championship at Pinewood (which was held last weekend), and I thought that was normally the weekend of Father’s Day.

“I fly back in on Friday, but I’d miss the first day of the tournament. So I can’t play. It’s disappointing. Family comes first, then work and then extracurriculars. But I’ll play as long I can. I truly enjoy the game and play as much as I can. So, I’ll be back.”

With Abney out of the picture for the 2014 tournament, the championship flight appears to be wide open. The question is, who will enter to play and who will choose to sit this one out? Pinewood Pro James Leitz, who finished second in 1979’s inaugural tournament while a college player, said the field is notoriously slow in filling up, with the majority of golfers waiting until the final days to sign up to play. Registration officially closed Wednesday, after the deadline for this column.

“Robbie Rhodes would be the most viable candidate to win, I think, if he plays,” Leitz said. “John Harris, who played at Slidell High, is a good player if he’s in. Robbie Mundine from Pope John Paul II is a good prep player.

“Kevin Rea has been consistent in this tournament for a long time. Bob Neal is another name. It really depends on who signs up.”

Leitz said that while the city champion continues to emerge from the championship flight, there has been increased competition in the senior (over 50) flight in recent years.

As for senior contenders, he mentioned Kerry Rotolo, Jack Picou, Dan Willwerth, Steve Klier, Lou Grush, Dan O’Sullivan and Trenton Eversull, should they compete this year.

The Greater Slidell Golf Championship requires all competitors to play a full round of golf at each of the three area courses over the span of three days.

The championship flight will begin at Pinewood on June 27, before moving to Royal on June 28 and finishing at Oak Harbor on June 29.

“That makes it harder on them all,” Leitz said. “These are three different courses, and people get kind of lulled to sleep if they play only one course all the time. It’s hard for someone to shoot their handicap in this tournament.”

Whatever the scores and whoever the entrants are, Leitz said the city tournament is a chance for the local golfing community to shine.

“This brings us all together,” he said. “We work well together, and it’s a chance for the three pros at the three courses to reconnect. We’ve always had a really good cooperative effort in putting the tournament on for the players of Slidell.”