Red-hot Gray takes Walt Leidner Memorial title

Dallas Gray has spent the summer giving every indication he’s about to embark on a highly successful career at Blackburn College.

But on the weekend of July 26, the recent VCHS grad kicked things up a notch, giving every indication he could wind up being one of Blackburn’s very best.

Not only did Gray, 18, become the youngest golfer on record to win the Walt Leidner Open – doing so by shooting at blistering eight-under-par 132 at Vandalia Country Club – he beat recent Blackburn grad and Beavers standout Andy Odle by two strokes to take the title.

Odle, a Litchtfield native, owns four all-time Blackburn records, including the lowest-ever score over 18 holes (66), the lowest 36-hole score (134), the lowest 54-hole score (220) and the lowest season average (75.7).

But Gray was simply too strong on his home course for the formidable Odle, as he fired a three-under-par 67 on Saturday before putting together perhaps the best 18-hole round of his career on Sunday with a 65.

‘I usually shoot good out there, but 65’s about the best I’ve shot out there,’ Gray said. ‘On the front nine, I was just making putts and wound up shooting a 31. Then I shot one under on the back nine.’

The scintillating final round gave Gray the tournament title in his first appearance in the event.

‘Going in, I just wanted to make sure I made the championship flight,’ Gray said.

Odle wound up with a strong second-place score of 134, three strokes ahead of Jim Odle and former St. Elmo and McKendree standout Zane Belden, who tied for third with 137s.

Craig Toler and Roger Lloyd rounded out the top of the championship-flight leaderboard by firing 139s.

Gray’s title was his fourth in six tournaments this summer, as he finished first in three of the five Central Illinois Junior Golf League tournaments he competed in.

Gray nearly won a fifth tournament of the summer with a furious comeback Tuesday in the CIJGL Championship at Red Tail Run Golf Course in Decatur.

Gray found himself in third place entering the tournaments’ final round, but he stormed back from a five-stroke deficit to put himself in position to win the title with a makeable putt on the final hole of the day.

‘It looked good,’ said Gray of the putt, ‘but it stopped about a half rotation short of the cup and I had to go to a playoff.’

Gray wound up finishing a stroke behind Mattoon senior-to-be Nick Heller in the playoff. But despite the disappointing second-place finish, Gray wound up third in the tour’s season points standings, despite competing in just a handful of events.

All told, Gray enters his freshman year at Blackburn playing by far the best golf of his career.

‘I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve been playing,’ said Gray, who finished no worse than second in her summer tournament slate. ‘In years past I’ve had a hole or two where I triple or quadruple boged and ruined it.

‘This year I haven’t had any of those. That’s what progressed my game to the next level.’

Scott Yancey won the A-flight of the Leidner Open with a 142, while St. Peter resident Shannon Smith was third with a 144 and Vandalia native Mike McCart tied for fourth with a 145.

Former Vandalia resident Brian Kelly won the B-flight with a 147. Fellow Vandalia native Dave Givens tied for third with a 148.

Mike Eaton took the C-flight with a 152, with local golfers Austin Schaal (Vandalia), Gary Howard (Vandalia) and Lloyd Stanley (St. Elmo) tying for third with 154s.

Vandalia native Mike Kelly won the D-flight with a 162, with fellow Vandalians Dave Henry and Brent Bayles tying for third with 164s. Vandalia resident Phil Rebbe placed fifth with a 167.

Walt Leidner co-founded the longtime annual tournament in the 1970s, and the event’s name was changed from ‘The Vandalia Open’ in 1989 to honor Leidner following his long and courageous battle with cancer.

The tournament drew over 100 entries this year from all over the Southern Illinois area.

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