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75th Ozark Amateur tees off Saturday at Schifferdecker

Christmas 6—The Ozark Amateur begins Saturday at Schifferedecker Golf Course with a field of 188 golfers, including eight returning champions from the past 10 years.

They will be competing in the 75th edition of the popular tournament.

A tournament of that size doesn’t get off the ground without a host of dedicated people. Schifferdecker Golf Pro Austin Shipman hit the ground running after being hired a month ago as the new pro at the course. Shipman, who previously was the pro at Miami’s Peoria Ridge and Joplin’s Eagle Creek, said he had valuable help in preparing for the tourney.

“The golf community really comes together during this tournament,” Shipman said. “We get volunteers from the Ladies Association (Schifferdecker Ladies Golf Association,) the Joplin Golf Club and outside of that, even. I have a list of people that called months in advance to help with the tourney. It’s great to see that many people care about such an old tournament.”

Shipman said that with his recent hire and getting a late start on organizing the tournament, greenskeeper Maron Towse has been instrumental in helping get the tourney prep going.

“I believe this is Maron’s eighth Ozark Am, so he has been a huge help to me since I came on board,” Shipman said. “The tournament came quickly based on when I came on and he’s been a huge help on getting me up to speed on expectations and what we try to offer on this weekend.”

Included among the eight former champions is last year’s defending champion Tradgon McCrae.

McCrae is no stranger to big tournaments and big moments. He won last year’s Ozark Amateur after a two-hole play-off with runner up Icem Brewer and was part of this spring’s Missouri Southern golf team that captured both the MIAA regular season and tournament titles for the first time in school history.

McCrae — MSSU’s first-ever MIAA Golfer of the Year — helped lead the Lions to an NCAA D-II Super Regional appearance. Prior to coming to MSSU, McCrae was part of Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College’s 2021 NJCAA National Championship team. Those big moments have helped prepare McCrae for a tournament like the Ozark Amateur.

“I’ve been playing summer tournaments for a long time and I’ve been playing golf for a long time so I kind of understand what the “big moment” is and what big tournaments are about,” McCrae said. “But with this year, how our college team did, it was really nice. I came from a program at Hutch where we were pretty good and won Nationals so being in those pressure situations helps with the important, big tournaments.”

Asked what it takes to earn back-to-back titles in a tourney like the Ozark Amateur, McCrae was quick to respond.

“Patience,” he said. “The course isn’t that long, but I know Maron (Towse), the greenskeeper, and I know he’ll trick the pins out pretty good and get the greens rolling pretty fast. You have to make some putts and try not to make many mistakes. It’s a short golf course, but it can be tough if you put yourself in the wrong spot.”

McCrae said he was impressed by the course at last year’s amateur and offered high praise to Towse.

“Maron always keeps those greens in good shape,” he said. “It’s always fun to go play at Schiff.”

Kym Fontana, of Scottsdale, Arizona, also praised Towse’s work on the greens as he took in a practice round at Schifferdecker on Thursday.

“He’s talked about all over the state,” Fontana, who travels all over the country for competitive tournaments, said of Towse. “He likes the Rain Man of golf courses, he can make grass grow on concrete.”

Shipley said its not unusual for the course to draw golfers from all over the country.

“We get people that are passing through and stop to play all the time,” Shipman said. “It never fails, they always seem to have nice things to say about the golf course and the people who work here as well.”

Also returning for this year’s tournament is last year’s runner-up, Icem Brewer, and 2021 champion Jordan Burks, who finished third in last year’s tournament.

Another key player in the field may be Mother Nature. Current forecasts call for some rain on Saturday, but Shipman said they are prepared for possible weather interruptions.

“We’re hoping for no rain, but as long as there is no severe weather, we will be playing golf in the rain,” Shipman said.

Saturday’s round will determine the eight flights, including the championship flight for Sunday, with about $10,000 total prize money up for grabs.