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Gazette Staff

WHITEFISH — Defending champion Jennifer James of Ennis won’t be competing this week at the 84th Montana State Women’s Amateur golf tournament, but Lisa Forney of Billings is back seeking her first championship.

Forney, who has eight consecutive Top 10 finishes to her credit, will be among the 200 players — 109 amateurs and 91 seniors — scheduled to participate in the 54-hole tournament beginning today at Whitefish Lakes Golf Club.

James — the former Jennifer McGregor of Billings — is due to give birth to her first child in August. Her husband, Brian James, is the golf pro at Madison Meadows Golf Course in Ennis.

The Women’s State Am competition will be held on the club’s North course, a par-72, 5,556-yard layout nestled among pine trees. Whitefish last hosted the event in 1947.

In addition to James, who also won State Am titles in 1995 and 1998, this year’s field will be missing last year’s runner-up Shannon McDonald of Bozeman. McDonald had to drop out after coming down with mononucleosis.

Cathie Williamson of Shelby, who placed third at last year’s State Am at The Briarwood in Billings, will be playing this week. So will JoAnne Steele of Missoula, who took fourth, and Kylie Anderson of Great Falls, who was sixth. Forney, who has been competing in the State Am since 1992, placed fifth a year ago.

Williamson won the women’s portion of Whitefish’s annual Fourth of July Tournament earlier this month, beating Bozeman’s Britney Hayes by 11 strokes.

Afton Steffanich of Belgrade, Hayes and Megan McDonald of Bozeman and Darah Newell of Helena are some of the other low handicap players who will be competing in the amateur ranks.

In the senior division (ages 50 and over), defending champion Billie Jean Bloxham of Great Falls will be back. Bloxham is formerly from Kalispell.

Gerry Jovanovich of Fort Benton, Robin Koontz of Missoula, Sheila Penaluna of Butte and Penny Sipes of Billings are expected to provide Bloxham with plenty of competition.

Koontz won in 1999, while Penaluna reigned as champion in 1997 and 1998. Sipes ruled as state seniors champion in 1993 and 1994.

In addition to tournament play, the Montana State Women’s Golf Association will be inducting Penaluna and Chris Newton of Whitefish into their Hall of Fame during a Wednesday night banquet.

Newton, who won the 1985 State Amateur, grew up in the Whitefish area and was a junior and high school champion. She went on to play golf on the collegiate level and on the mini-professional golf tours.

Penaluna has been one of the leading players in the Butte/Anaconda area for years. She has also been active on a variety of golf committees over the years.