Golf: History shows Josh Gass, Baley Lehr undoubtedly the favorites at 44th Berry Memorial

Josh Gass putts on the Eastwood's front nine Sunday, July 16, 2023, during the Richard J. Berry Memorial Championships.

Since moving to a two-course, two-day scheduling format at the beginning of this decade, the Richard J. Berry Memorial has been nothing if not a consistent, successful area men’s golf tournament.

And as sure as participation numbers of about 100 golfers, great course conditions at Ottawa’s Pine Hills and at Streator’s Eastwood and the excitement coming down to the final hole in the vast majority of the event’s seven flights has been this: Either Josh Gass or Baley Lehr will finish Sunday’s final round capturing the championship.

The 44th Berry Memorial will be held this weekend, with 36 holes of golf beginning Saturday at Pine Hills and concluding Sunday at Eastwood.

Only once since 2014 – when Gass and Baley Lehr missed the 2021 Berry Memorial because of wedding celebrations – has anyone else hoisted the Championship Flight trophy, a two-man run of dominance unrivaled in the Berry’s 44-year history.

Last year, Gass became just the third man to reach five Championship Flight titles, tied with Bob Berry behind all-time tournament leader Rich Holloway, an eight-time champion. Gass won in 2023, 2020, 2019, 2016 and 2014.

Baley Lehr, the 2023 runner-up, won the Berry in 2022, 2018, 2017 and 2015.

“I guess that’s the story, right? Can somebody knock off one of those two guys?” said tournament director Tony Muscato, himself also a longtime Championship Flight competitor and the defending Senior Division winner.

Baley Lehr tees off on the tenth hole during the Illinois Valley Mens Golf Championship on Sunday, July 30, 2023 at Senica's Oak Ridge golf course in La Salle.

Muscato, who placed 11th last year but has made the final foursome in recent years, would be one of the golfers to keep an eye on in terms of dethroning the Gass-Lehr diarchy. Another likely contender would be Jeremy DeBernardi, the 2021 champion who placed third last summer, five strokes behind Gass.

Three-time champion Brian Lehr (2013, 2010, 2009) finished fifth in last year’s Berry, followed in order of 2023 finish by fellow 2024 returnees Breyer Harris, Rick Lehr, Patrick Guilfoyle, recent Ottawa High School graduate Drake Kaufman, Paul Snook, Jonathan Cooper, a fifth former champion in Rick Krumscheid (2005) and Jake Delaney.

Either joining or rejoining the Championship Flight field this weekend will be last year’s Championship 2 Flight winner, Steve Limberg, as well as the runner-up, Cole Park. Also added to the top flight are past tournament contenders Lane Barbier and Alex Blumenshine, another couple of accomplished young guns from the Ottawa High School program in Seth Cooper and Bryer Harris, and two recent aces of the Streator High program in Huston Gass and Jaydon Nambo.

The Berry’s other flights – Championship 2, A, B, C, D and Legends, the last of which has Bill Sipula returning to defend his crown – will run alongside Championship Flight on Saturday at Pine Hills, then before the top flight Sunday at the Eastwood.

“I haven’t been out to Pine Hills yet [for my practice round], I’m going there Thursday,” Muscato said. “But I can tell you the Eastwood is in the finest shape I’ve seen in my 35 years as a member ... and Pine Hills, I played there in the invitational back in June, and it was in great shape as well.”

Golfers interested in playing in this year’s tournament still can sign up by calling either the Eastwood or Pine Hills.

“It’s a good value,” Muscato said. “You sign up, you get two practice rounds, two tournament rounds, two tickets to the [Sunday night] banquet and a nice gift.”

This year’s title sponsors remain Star Ford Rentals and State Farm – Theresa Solon. SOCU has taken over the $10,000 Hole-In-One Challenge.

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