THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Locals Grove, Bayley, in the spotlight at the Lilac, both have lofty goals

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  • MARK NELKE/Press Russell Grove, North Idaho College men’s and women’s golf coach, chips onto the 14th green during the third round of the Lilac City Invitational on Saturday at The Fairways at West Terrace.

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    MARK NELKE/Press Derek Bayley of Rathdrum watches his tee shot on the 13th hole at the Lilac City Invitational on Saturday at The Fairways at West Terrace.

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    MARK NELKE/Press Billy Bomar, co-owner of Prairie Falls Golf Course in Post Falls, chips onto the 14th green at The Fairways at West Terrace on Saturday during the third round of the Lilac City Invitational.

  • MARK NELKE/Press Russell Grove, North Idaho College men’s and women’s golf coach, chips onto the 14th green during the third round of the Lilac City Invitational on Saturday at The Fairways at West Terrace.

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    MARK NELKE/Press Derek Bayley of Rathdrum watches his tee shot on the 13th hole at the Lilac City Invitational on Saturday at The Fairways at West Terrace.

  • 2

    MARK NELKE/Press Billy Bomar, co-owner of Prairie Falls Golf Course in Post Falls, chips onto the 14th green at The Fairways at West Terrace on Saturday during the third round of the Lilac City Invitational.

It wasn’t quite the outcome either of them envisioned, some 4 1/2 hours later.

But there they were, two North Idaho guys, Russell Grove and Derek Bayley, in the final group in the third round of the region’s only 72-hole tournament, the 56th Lilac City Invitational at The Fairways at West Terrace outside Cheney.

Grove, who played at Coeur d’Alene High and the University of Idaho, and is now men’s and women’s golf coach at North Idaho College, led by one shot over Bayley, who played at Lakeland High and Washington State, and now has status on two pro tours — PGA Tour Latinoamerica, and the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada).

“It’s pretty cool to see a couple of guys from Coeur d’Alene to be up there (on the leaderboard), and do our thing,” Bayley said.

Grove shot even-par 72 and is at 9-under 207, tied for fifth, three strokes back of the leader.

Bayley carded a 74 and is at 6 under, tied for ninth.

“Today was moving day, and we all moved in the wrong direction,” Grove said.

“For being in the final group, we played like we were the first group out this morning,” Bayley said.

Billy Bomar, co-owner of Prairie Falls in Post Falls, who is also playing in the Lilac, knows both well.

He and Grove have played in the Oregon Open (a Pacific Northwest PGA Section major) the past four years. And Bomar met Bayley when he came to Alaska, where Bomar formerly lived, to play in a U.S. Open qualifier.

“If those guys play well, it’s good for all of us (in North Idaho),” Bomar said. “I’m proud of both of them, and they’re both helluva players.”

THE PATHS of Grove and Bayley haven’t crossed much on the golf course — to their recollection, Saturday was only the second time they played together. The first time was the final round of last year’s Rosauers Open Invitational, which Bayley won as an amateur.

“Russ and I had a lot of fun today, (though) we didn’t play our best,” Bayley said Saturday. “We haven’t played together a lot, but we obviously know who each other are. Russ is a good dude.”

Grove has won three Section majors, and is the reigning two-time Pacific Northwest PGA Player of the Year.

“I could take credit one of two of his victories because I can read the putts for him,” Bomar said with a laugh.

Grove has tried to qualify for the Web.com Tour the past two years, and he may give it another shot this year.

“The Canadian Tour, from what I’ve seen, and people I’ve talked to, if you have a good year up there, you break even, basically,” Grove said. “I plan my tournaments to try and make some money.”

At 33, Grove still has PGA Tour aspirations — though he admits to starting late, as far as competitive golf is concerned. He was 14 when he started playing competitive golf, and he noted that some players who have made it big were winning events when they were 8 or 9 years younger.

“I feel like I still am improving, and in good shape,” Grove said. “I feel if I can stay healthy, I feel like my prime isn’t for a few more years.”

“He’s got just as much game as Derek,” Bomar said of Grove. “It’s just a matter of getting the right opportunity, and getting that break, and shoot, they could both be playing the (PGA) Tour next year.”

On Saturday, Grove’s only hiccup was a double-bogey 6 on the 13th hole, when he drove into the weeds, punched out, hit over the green and took three to get down.

He carded a 3-over 39 on the back nine.

“The back nine was rough, for sure ... I kinda lost focus, I guess,” Grove said. “Felt fine on the front nine, and then was just trying to get it in on the back nine.”

ON SATURDAY, Bayley doubled the par-5 12th hole. But at least he avoided a third straight disaster on the par-4 15th.

On Thursday, he driver out of bounds to the left and made 6. On Friday, he hit 3-wood out of bounds, then hit his provisional in the water, and took a 7. Both came with winds of 15-20 mph blowing in.

On Saturday, under benign (especially for the windy Fairways) conditions, he parred the hole.

All told, he also had three birdies and three bogeys, and shot 36-38.

“It was a different day for sure,” said Bayley, 23. “We actually got ideal conditions today, and I did everything but take advantage of it. Just one of those days. See if we can go out tomorrow and get a low one going.”

After the Lilac, Bayley will head back to the Mackenzie Tour.

“I’ve been around this game for a long time, and Derek, not only with his talent, but with the human being he is, he’s got a chance,” Bomar said.

Why?

“His demeaner, just the way he conducts himself, he’s very humble, and he knows how to win, and he can also manage himself off the golf course. I think he’s got all the skills to go to the next level.”

“The Canadian Tour doesn’t make sense for me, money wise,” Grove said. “But for him (Bayley), especially just out of college, the more tournaments you can play in, the better. It’s just all about experience. The more events you play, the more courses you play, the more comfortable you get and the more you learn. So yeah, the fact he’s got status on both tours is definitely helpful for sure, so he can play a bunch.”

AS IT turned out, Bomar had the best round of the three, a 4-under 68. He moved up into a tie for 19th, after starting the day tied for 27th.

“I’m probably hitting it as good and as far as I ever had,” said Bomar, 56. “And starting to putt better too, I’ve been experimenting the last four years after the anchor ban, and I’m getting close.”

Bomar uses the side-saddle putting method.

This is the first time he’s played the Lilac, mostly because tourney organizers moved up the tournament one month. He’d never played The Fairways before Thursday’s first round.

“What a fun course, It reminds me of the course I grew up on (in Alaska) — wide open, kinda muni, but it has more tricky holes than I remember. But the greens are so good out here, if you hit good putts, they’re going in.”

So the older guy can still play a little bit.

But if Grove, in particular, makes it to the Tour someday, he can count on someone who also lives in North Idaho to help him read his putts.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.

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