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The extremes that characterized high school golf last season are gone, leaving the 2007 championship races as wide open as tee-times in a snowstorm.

“It should be competitive again,” new Ramstein coach Jeff Pellaton said of this season, which begins Wednesday.

Kaiserslautern’s Ben Antonik, who won the 2006 European championship by a whopping 24 strokes, has graduated, as has his female counterpart, Allysen Vance of Ramstein. Vance won her title by amassing more than half-again as many Stableford points as runner-up Brittany Morris of Patch.

Antonik’s departure from competition — he’s still around as a volunteer coach, according to K-town coach Gerald Oyan — leaves a group of returnees, chief among them 2006 runner-up Craig Herron of Ramstein, whose members finished within 15 strokes of each other in last October’s Europeans at Rheinblick.

Leveling the playing field even more is a back injury Pellaton said will keep Herron, who shot 187 for 36 holes in last year’s finale, from the top of his game for the near future. When he recovers, Ramstein looks solid for a repeat team title as Gavon Byrd (10th last season) Stewart Dines (12th) and Ben Meyer (14th) top the 22-strong Royals’ roster.

Lakenheath, runner-up last time, returns four 2006 qualifiers, according to coach Otis McCloskey, but none of them played championship flight in last year’s tourney. And the Lancers, unlike in years past, will neither travel to nor host teams from the continent continent in 2007.

“They tell me it’s all a matter of logistics, but it’s a downer for the kids and parents that we’re not hosting,” McCloskey said of the scheduling.

“We’ll miss socializing with them.”

Lakenheath will get a chance to travel to Rota at the end of the month, but the usually strong Admirals return just one 2006 European qualifier: 13th-place finisher Nikolas Ripperda, according to coach Greg Jacobs.

Jacobs, who has scheduled a meet against a local Spanish group to supplement his team’s match-up against Lakenheath, doesn’t view his team’s limited competitive schedule as a handicap.

“One time is sufficient for kids to understand what the competition is like,” he said. “Besides, we play against the course anyway.”

For Europeans, that course will once again be Rheinblick, the hilly layout in the Wiesbaden suburb of Frauenstein, which is off-limits to all DODDS golfers until tournament time, Oct. 10-11.

The season begins Wednesday at Stuttgart Golf Course in Kornwestheim, with a four-way meet pitting Patch, Vilseck, Heidelberg and Bamberg against each other.

Ramstein’s Woodlawn layout welcomes the host Royals, Wiesbaden, Baumholder, Kaiserslautern and Bitburg on Friday in Week One’s other match-up. Three more weekly tournaments, all scored using a modified Stableford system, lead into the Europeans.


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