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John Day column: Recalling great days of City golf

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My boss, John O’Donnell, asked me if I would cover the City Men’s Golf Championships in 1974, my first summer covering sports for the Times.

My first thoughts were that this would be an easy assignment, and that there weren’t a lot of people who really cared. But I quickly realized that it was a very BIG DEAL, not only to the participants, but friends and fans. And that this was something I would enjoy far beyond the realm of work.

I was amazed when hundreds of fans showed up at Ives Hill Country Club for the Ken Leon versus Bobby Quinn final. While writing the story that night, it occurred to me that this was one to cherish each summer. Not for just the golf, but for the people involved, and the camaraderie and genuine love of competition.

It was a nostalgic look back. But more importantly, it reminded me of the friends I’ve made on and off the course.

The highlight for me every year is late Saturday as qualifiers hang around the scoreboard waiting and wondering where the cut will fall. Reflections on the good and the bad of the day are told, as well as predictions about how the tournament will unfold the rest of the week.

I had forgotten that the 1974 tourney marked the first time the new nine on the city’s South Side was used.

The next year, I’ll never forget when Mike Redder won the first of his two city crowns and then Ives Hill pro Dan O’Leary proclaimed Redder “The King.’’

We lost King Mike way too soon.

I was fortunate enough to see Jim Quinn, a three-time city champ who possessed one of the best short games I’ve ever seen, in his prime. His 1978 win was notable in that it introduced teenage sensation Bob Hughes to the City tournament landscape as a finalist for the first time.

Dave Gerken’s win over brother Gary in 1979 marked the first time siblings had played for the title since Bun and Chuck Quinn battled in 1951.

One of the great tournament winning putts came in 1980 when Joe Quinn beat cousin Bob Quinn with a 20-footer on the final hole.

The following year, Hughes entered the winner’s circle for the first time. It would be the beginning of the greatest career in City golf history. We were sad, and happy, when Hughes turned pro after his 1986 win. But we rejoiced when he returned five years later.

It was nice to see new blood win when Steve Ahlgrim captured the 1989 City title.

One of the truly nice guys, John Bufalini, finally broke through in 1990. “Buf’’ then became the first repeat winner since 1970 by also taking the 1991 title.

Watching Hughes dominate the 1990s was a real treat. After being reinstated as an amateur in 1992, he tied the legendary Fred McGrann with five consecutive City titles from 1992-1996, then won again in 1998.

Hughes added three more titles from 2000-02 before Joe Tufo ended his reign in 2003, winning in his fourth trip to the finals.

I remember two city heavyweights, Bufalini and Hughes, battling through terrible weather in the legendary 2008 final, with Bufalini winning.

Ryan Clark became the youngest city champ ever at age 17 in 2011. And Hughes made it an even dozen titles last year.

My time covering the City tournament is coming to an end. But I’ll always be a fan and a follower.

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