Twenty-eight years without a win is a long drought.
Columbia golfer Hardeep Bhullar has played in the Kiwanis Columbia Championship Golf Tournament every year since it began in 1975 but has never won.
Bhullar has come close several times, placing second in 1977 and 1980 and third in 1976.
Bhullar will get another shot at in this year’s tournament, which begins today at A.L. Gustin Golf Course.
The three-day, 54-hole tournament features 80 of the top local players. A cut will be made after Saturday’s round at Lake of the Woods, sending the top 40 scores to Columbia Country Club for the final round Sunday.
Bhullar, 59, owner of Tiger Tee Golf Driving Range, said even though he will be one of the oldest competitors in the tournament, he is confident.
“Every time I play, I always try to play well and to win,” he said. “Deep down, I still feel I can play well.”
Bhullar missed the cut last year for the first time after undergoing surgery to replace his left knee.
Winning this year’s championship will be no easy task. According to Rex Dillow, tournament co-chairman, the competition increases each year.
“More and more people are trying to qualify,” Dillow said. “There are 15 or 20 people that have any chance of winning, yet people work to get invited.”
Dillow said this level of prestige is the result of the championship accomplishing its main goal.
“The objective of the tournament is promoting amateur, individual-play golf,” Dillow said.
The tournament is by invitation only. Some players such as Bhullar have permanent exemptions. Other players are selected based on performance at local tournaments such as the Hagan Match Play Championship and the Phil Cotton Invitational.
Players also may gain invitations based on their scoring in previous city championships and may be recommended. Recommendations usually come from course professionals or high school coaches.
Dee Sanders, a nine-time Kiwanis champion, recommended Josh Brady, who played for the first time in 2000 when he was 13.
Brady, 16, is playing in his fourth Columbia Championship after making the cut every year except 2001. He tied for eighth last year with a three-round 225.
Brady, who will be a junior at Hickman, said he should score well in the final round.
“I play at (Columbia Country Club) almost every day and I know the course like the back of my hand.,” he said.
Brady is playing with 1999 Hagan champion Tim Rooney in today’s round and according to Dillow, the pairing was not by chance.
“We take these youngsters and pair them up with established golfers,” Dillow said.
Dillow said the strategy has been positively received and is intended to break the trend of golfers typically only playing with other people around the same age.
Bhullar said he supports the pairing system.
“It’s a great opportunity for the younger players and older players to get to know each other,” he said.
Dillow said sometimes the older players can learn something from their youthful opponents.
“We had one of these young golfers a few years ago and when I told him he was paired with one of our top golfers, he said, ‘Well, I hope he’s not intimidated,’” Dillow said.
Not everyone invited to the Columbia Championship is playing. Junior golfers D.J. Chung, Chris Johnson and Jay Rader are playing in other tournaments.