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Top Upper Peninsula women golfers converge on Escanaba for U.P. Ladies Golf Association championship tournament starting Saturday

Escanaba High School’s Paxton Johnson hits a chip shot at a high school golf meet held at the Escanaba Country Club in 2017. Johnson, who will play golf at Northern Michigan University this fall, is the defending champion and leads a field of 40 women at this weekend’s Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association championship at the Escanaba course. (Escanaba Daily Press file photo)

ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association championship is returning to the Escanaba Country Club after an absence of 14 years.

The tournament begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday with the qualifying round and runs through Tuesday.

“As far as the women’s U.P.’s go, it’s obviously very exciting to have the event here,” ECC golf pro Jeff Rae said. “It’s a once-a-year-type deal, so whenever you get it, it’s very special.

“It’s one of those things where you look forward to hosting, your membership looks forward to it and the community looks forward to it.”

Forty women are registered for this year’s event, including defending champion Paxton Johnson and defending UPLGA Senior champion Barb Scott — both members at ECC.

Johnson, who will attend and play golf at Northern Michigan University this fall, won the ECC club championship the past two years, while Scott is a 14-time club champ.

Johnson was also a four-time individual champion of the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 1 high school girls tournament after graduating in May from Escanaba High School.

“We have the 2018 UPLGA champion Paxton Johnson, who’s a member here. We have the 2018 Senior UPLGA champion Barb Scott, who’s also a member here. With those two names alone, there could possibly be fireworks on Tuesday,” Rae said. “This is like modern-day boxing with Floyd (Mayweather) vs. Connor (McGregor). Granted, it’s a much different scale, but when it comes to local golf, this is as good as it gets.”

“There’s a lot of other good players,” Rae said. “I don’t know a lot of the women personally because they’re coming from all over the U.P., but there’s an extensive list of women who could win the thing.”

Another competitor to watch for is Payton Dube, an upcoming senior at Hancock High School.

“This girl is going to bring some pressure, from what I’ve been hearing,” Rae said. “Another one I’d like to mention is Lori Shea from Gladstone.”

The qualifying round will consist of foursomes, with the top 16 scorers advancing to the championship flight in a match-play format. The remaining 24 women will be broken into three flights of eight. The losers of the first round of the championship flight will be formed into a President’s Flight, which will be flighted based on qualifying round scores.

“Match play is so much different than stroke play because it’s a hole-by-hole basis,” Rae said. “If you make the top 16 and you’re in the championship flight, anybody has a chance to win in match play.

“Obviously, the better golfers and the lower handicaps are going to have more of a chance, but with that being said, if somebody who’s a six or seven handicap comes out and has a bad day, anything can happen. When you have 40 women that are playing, anything can happen. That’s the most exciting (thing) about match play — you really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Rae noted the course is in great condition and the forecast for the weekend looks promising after it last held this event in 2005.

“From a selfish standpoint, I want to show off our course,” he said. “When you get 40 women from all over the U.P., you want your course in the best shape possible. You want really good surroundings, playing conditions and competitiveness, and I think you’re going to see that here this weekend.

“From a golf director standpoint, that’s really what you want. You want to market your course … we’re over a hundred years old, so there’s a lot of history involved. This is the 93rd annual UPLGA, so there’s history there as well. That’s what’s so exciting about it — you have all the history coming together at an older course.”

Rae also noted the public is welcome to come out and follow the tournament. Semifinals and finals will be held Tuesday.

“It’s exciting to come out. You can follow and you can watch. If you have a favorite golfer, or if you know somebody, you can go find them,” he said. “Watching match play is super exciting because it’s hole by hole. If you can watch the whole match, that’s pretty fun if you’re a golf fan.

“Tuesday’s going to be the best day to come out because you got your finals match that’s going to start at around 12:30 or 1 o’clock, and that’s going to be for the championship.”