BY ROBERT GAUTNEY Special to The Californian
The pressure will be there, just not as much now since Ron Killmer finally got that monkey off his back in last year's Men's Kern County Amateur golf tournament.
Killmer, 24, a former Cal State Bakersfield star, won the 2012 KC Amateur after years of near misses. And to top it off, he had to do it in a 5-hole playoff over Brady Baguio at Haggerty-North Kern.
But this year, Killmer will be the defending champion when he tees it up in the opening round Saturday at Foss-Kern River. The final round will be Sunday at Mifflin-Buena Vista.
"Yeah, I guess you could say that there will not be as much pressure to finally win one as in the past," said Killmer this week. "Now that I've got one under my belt, I can always use that to fall back on and tell myself that I can do it."
Before the breakthrough, Killmer had three top-5s and had finished in the top 10 in every Kern Amateur since 2005. That run included a runner-up finish in 2007 to Justin Pitts. Killmer shot 136 (6-under-par) that year but finished one shot behind Pitts, who tied the tournament scoring mark.
"Yeah, that one stung the most," said Killmer. "To play that well and get beat by a record is tough. But I just kept plugging away and finally got a few breaks."
Killmer shot a 3-under 69 in the final round last year that included just one bogey, and Killmer said he thinks it will take a couple of similar rounds to win this year.
"There might not be a lot of players this year, but the quality will be there," says Killmer. "And both courses are in great shape, which is good for scoring."
According to Kern River pro Jim Foss, around 40-45 players will compete in the championship, down from years past, but expect some under-par rounds with the courses in great scoring condition.
One of those players will be Blake McPherson, who will be battling Killmer for the 2013 Michelob Ultra/Sports Authority Player of the Year title. Killmer won last year and would like to win it again.
"That would be nice to get the bookend trophy to the one from last year, but Blake has been playing well and in fact he beat me in the last two tournaments," Killmer said.
Killmer was referring to McPherson's win in the Taft City Amateur, where Killmer finished third, and the RiverLakes Amateur last month in a playoff over Killmer.
"He's playing well right now and he just qualified (with Travis Millwee) for the SCGA 4-Ball, so I know he will be tough to beat."
For the record, Killmer also qualified for that SCGA event with his partner Nick Vallejo.
Killmer has 60 points in the Player of the Year standings while McPherson has 56. The only others with a shot to win Player of the year honors are Manav Shah (46) and Tony Denesha (44). The winner of the tournament earns 30 points, followed by 27 for second and so on down to three for 10th. So, Killmer needs to finish just behind McPherson to win the title again.
"That's what makes it a little more interesting," says Killmer of not only playing to win the tournament but also being in the Player of the Year race. "I'd like to be in the hunt to win on Sunday, but if I'm not it's cool to still have something to play for down the stretch on Sunday."
The tournament begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Kern River and the leaders will tee off at 11 a.m. on Sunday at Buena Vista. There is no charge to be a part of the gallery.
For more news and notes on local golf, follow Robert Gautney's weekly column on bakersfield.com