Jeff Neher knows what it’s like to be in the hunt for the Walla Walla All-City Championships golf title.
He just doesn’t know what it’s like to don the crown.
Four times during his 11 years as a participant in the annual tournament, Neher has had to settle for second best.
But the former Wa-Hi standout is hopeful — make that determined — that this weekend’s 70th edition of the All-City will be different. And he has every reason to believe that it’s his turn, that his time has come.
“Golf is a funny game, though, so it’s hard to say,” Neher said of his chances this weekend. “There are a lot of good young guys who are playing some pretty good golf right now. I’ve just got to go out there and play my best.”
Neher lost to fellow Blue Devil Rob Broadhead in a sudden-death playoff during Broadhead’s run of four All-City titles in five years that began in 2006.
“I don’t remember which year it was,” Neher said. “But I remember that Rob holed out an eagle on the first hole of the playoff.”
Neher finished second for a second time in 2012 when another former Blue Devil, Greg Prins, prevailed in a playoff. And in 2017 Neher was runnerup to Mike Ciez when Ciez eagled two of the last four holes en route to his fifth straight All-City championship.
Finally, just last year, Neher had to settle for second when Michael Wog escaped with a one-shot victory for his first All-City title.
Wog won’t be back to defend his crown this weekend. Nor will Ciez nor Prins nor Broadhead be in the field.
Wog has been traveling and learning the winemaking trade, Neher noted. Ciez and Broadhead have turned professional and Prins is practicing dentistry in Sandpoint, Idaho.
While that somewhat clears the deck for Neher, he knows full well that there are no guarantees.
“Golf is the one game where you lose more than you win,” Neher said. “That’s just the way it goes. You can play your best and someone else plays better.
“That’s part of the fun of it.”
There will be at least six former All-City champs in this year’s field, and perhaps a couple of others as well.
Gregg Corn, who won the second of his two championships in 2005, Eric Kimball (2003), Devin Kaylor (2002), Ron Smith (2001), John LeFriec (1997, 1993) and Bill Fleenor (1977) were all penciled in as of early this week. Thirteen-time winner Jeff Thomas and five-time champ Jim Beard are still around and active golfers but were not entered.
However, other than Kimball, Kaylor and perhaps LeFriec, the other players in that group aren’t expected to toss their hats into the championship flight.
But there will be plenty of other contenders, Neher is certain.
“Tyler Daniels and Corey Spencer out at Wine Valley are playing pretty good right now,” Neher said. “And Marshall Byerley, Derik Heitzmann, Jonney Keyes, Jorge Martinez and Carl Wheeler are as well at the country club.
“We have a really fun group of young guys who like to compete and have a good time doing it.”
And just for good measure, Veterans Memorial pro Chris Repass tossed out the names of Chris Mehl, Dakota Baker and Ramon Montoya as players from his course who can take the heat.
Repass also tabbed country club player Jeff Wright as a possibility.
“I just met Jeff,” Repass said. “He’s relatively new to the area, but he is a good player.
“All those names are in the wind,” Repass added. “I’m looking at Jeff Neher and Tyler Daniels, but there are a number of other single-digit handicap players.”
The experience of finishing second four times could work to Neher’s advantage this weekend, he suggested.
“I want to believe that the older I get, the more I understand my game and how to manage it,” he said. “For instance, it’s not always the driver off the tee.
“The most important thing is to keep the ball in play and make putts. That’s what I’m trying to do.”