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Playing the underdog card

It likely won't happen too often in my Links With Locals summer adventure, but I entered this week's round a decided underdog.

On Tuesday, it was off to Timber Creek in Dixon. I shared a cart with Mitchell Homb, a 2011 Dixon High School graduate who won a Class 2A state golf championship as a senior. He is currently a scholarship player at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and was the Cougars' No. 2 golfer this past season with a 75.2 average.

When I called Mitchell last week, I noted he was welcome to fill out a foursome as he saw fit. Upon my arrival, I saw Matt Hageman, a 2009 Newman grad, and like Mitchell, a scholarship collegiate golfer. Hageman recently graduated from Illinois State, and was a part-time starter for the Redbirds.

I greeted Matt outside the clubhouse, and was pleased to find out he'd be playing with me and Mitchell. Mick Homb, Mitchell's dad and a fine player in his own right, was supposed to be our fourth, but was scared off by some threatening weather.

Early in our round, a couple of things were clear. First, on the par 4s and lone par 5, I was going to be hitting my second shot well behind those two long-hitting flatbellies. Matt, in particular, was ridiculously long off the tee, with some bombs going out there in the 330-, even 340-yard range.

"He's got those beer muscles now," said Mitchell, who turned 21 over the weekend. "We used to be about the same off the tee, but not anymore."

Second, if I was going hang with Mitchell on the scorecard, I'd have to bring my 'A' game. He birdied No. 3, then No. 4, then No. 5 before we headed back to the clubhouse due to an approaching storm. I believe he called it a "running turkey," although that could have been some sort of libation he consumed during the Petunia Festival upon turning 21.

Mitchell made the turn in 4-under 32, six strokes ahead of me and seven clear of Matt, making me happy I didn't offer up some sort of wager (skins, Nassau or even Cokes) before the round.

The back nine was more of the same. Mitchell was solid with the exception of a few wayward approaches to Nos. 14 and 15, which both led to bogeys. Those were erased, however, with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17, and he finished with a 4-under-par 67.

Matt was 1-under on the back before finishing with back-to-back bogeys, and the 36 on the back gave him a 4-over-par 75. He said he hasn't been playing a tremendous amount of golf of late, as finding employment has been his top priority. With a finance degree in his pocket, he hopes to land a job in either Chicago or St. Louis – a big city, but close to his roots in Dixon.

As for yours truly, I plodded along on the back, hitting just enough decent shots to get it around in 38 for a 5-over-par 76. It wasn't my best, but I've been worse, and besides, what really matters is still 9 days away.

That when the men's Lincoln Highway Tournament will be held at Sunset Golf Course in Mount Morris. Mitchell will be gunning for his fourth individual title in the past 5 years, but the last time the event was at Sunset, in 2003, I was the champ and we won the team title. Home turf is a wonderful thing.

Who knows – maybe me and the cast of characters I play golf with in Mount Morris can conjure up that magic again. It's going to be fun, and I can't wait until next weekend.

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