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SIOUX CITY – As the Tri-State Masters reaches its 14th birthday, it’s important to note how popular the three-day event has become in the nearly decade-and-a-half of its existence.

This year’s tournament filled 20 days before anyone is scheduled to tee off for the first round at Dakota Dunes Country Club Friday. That’s by far a record for any of the “major” tournaments administered by Green Valley Director of Golf Scott Harmelink and his staff.

Therefore, a word for the wise for anyone interested in participating in the 2019 Tri-State Masters: enter as soon as possible.

Chris Rager of South Sioux City is the defending champion in the grueling tourney, played on three different courses in three different states. After Dakota Dunes (South Dakota), action shifts to Covington Links in South Sioux City (Nebraska) for Saturday’s second round and the final round is set for Sunday at Green Valley in Sioux City. Iowa, that is.

Weather interfered with last year’s tournament, so much so that the entire second round at Covington was wiped out. Rager braved some pretty dicey elements on Sunday to win by three shots over Josh Wendling.

Rager, a former Morningside College player, will be back to defend his title this weekend, as will Sioux Cityan Vern Van Peursem, who won the Senior Division. By the way, there are 40 of the 50-and-over crowd entered this year.

With all of the slots filled, there will be no shortage of talent on hand. That starts with Corey Matthey and Colin Mitchell, who finished one-two in the season-opening Elk Point Early Bird last weekend.

Morningside College sophomore Matthey has to be considered a favorite in every tournament he enters around these parts. The Sergeant Bluff resident has been crowned Sioux City Journal Siouxland Player of the Year each of the last two years and tends to dominate in our neck of the woods.

Nick Dreckman of Le Mars, Iowa, and Sioux Cityan Ayron Corporon are the only three-time Tri-State champions. Dreckman won in 2011, 2012 and 2016, while Corporon prevailed in consecutive years from 2006-08.

Past ‘major’ winners Adam Fields, Tyson Bodlak and Jeff Donaldson are in the field, as is Bill Mathers, a perennial contender despite edging ever-so-close to 70 years old.

Bret Taylor, a former longtime head professional in Sioux City and now one of the top amateurs in the state of Iowa, will make the trip from his home near Des Moines.

“This tournament has become a bit of a tradition for a lot of players,” tournament director Harmelink said. “For instance, I have a group of guys that have come down from Egan, Minnesota, for the last five or six years. They love everything about this tournament and I’m proud to have such continued loyalty from them and so many others.”

The Tri-State Masters is Sioux City’s only Iowa Golf Association points event, used to determine its player of the year. And, since this is a major, valuable points (double, in fact) are there for the taking in the race for Siouxland Player of the Year.

All three courses are in great condition despite the miserable weather we experienced this spring. That, of course, is thanks to the efforts of superintendents Doug Hausmann at Dakota Dunes, Marty Johnson at Covington and Dan Moody and Shawn Vacura at Green Valley.

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