Letendre on board for NBCC

Tony Letendre said Monday that he hasn't heard too much about the Jones Cup, the annual golf tournament that tees off at Newport Beach Country Club at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

After a last-minute switch, Letendre is Newport Beach's team captain for the event. But it is easy to forgive him for not knowing about the particulars of the tournament.

Monday was Letendre's very first day on the job, as head professional at Newport Beach.

That hasn't stopped people around the course from giving him Jones Cup advice.

"Everybody that has been greeting me since I've been here has told me everything from, 'No pressure, but we think you'll play well,' to, 'I think this is our year to win,'" Letendre said. "I don't know what to expect. I don't know what to think. I'm just happy to get it airborne off the first tee."

Letendre, 35, came from Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells, where he had been since the club opened eight years ago. He replaces Paul Hahn, both as the Newport Beach Country Club head pro and in the tournament. Hahn had played in all 12 previous editions of the Jones Cup.

Letendre said the private club is under new ownership and decided to go a different direction. He said becoming the head pro at Newport Beach was a great opportunity to further his career.

When Letendre said he got the call from NBCC General Manager Perry Dickey about playing in the Jones Cup, the choice was easy.

"Shoot, I always like to play golf, so that's all right," Letendre said. "To come here in my first week and get to meet the club champion, the ladies' club champ and the senior club champ, that's a pretty good deal if you ask me."

Letendre will be the only first-timer on the host squad. Professional Carlo Borunda, men's champion Brian Lindley, senior men's champion Jan-Erik Palm and ladies' champion Debbie Fleming all have previous experience in the tournament.

Fleming has the most Jones Cup experience. This will be her fourth Jones Cup appearance in six years.

Lindley, who previously played the tournament in 2005 and '06, is back for his third go at it. He became the men's club champion in dramatic fashion earlier this month, when Lindley said he sunk a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win that title.

"Any sort of competition like this, I'm very enthusiastic about and interested in," said Lindley, an Estancia High product who grew up playing at Mesa Verde. "The more people who come and watch, I think the better. This will be the first time I've played [Jones Cup] at my home club, so it will be interesting to see what it's like.

"Newport's a pretty straightforward course. In terms of tips and tricks and so forth, it's kind of minimized. Generally, what you see is what you get. We don't expect to have any huge home-course advantage over the other players."

Still, playing at home is nice. Newport Beach won its only Jones Cup title at home in 2004. The club came close again four years later at its home course, advancing to a three-team playoff eventually won by Big Canyon.

None of this year's players were on either of those teams, but maybe it is time for another strong NBCC showing. Last year the club finished third at Big Canyon, only ahead of Santa Ana, which has never won the title.

If the going gets tough the players can always turn to their captain, the new guy in town.

"I'm humbled by the fact that here I am, my first week on the job, and they're asking me to represent the club," Letendre said.


Twitter: @mjszabo

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