This is the oldest championship conducted by the SCGA. Started in 1900, this event crowns the best amateur player of the Association. The event is limited to players with handicap indexes of 4.4 and below. Competitors undergo 18 holes of qualifying play in order to reach the final field of 84 players. In the Championship, players compete over 72 holes of stroke play with the top 42 and ties advancing after the first 36 holes. The championship is traditionally held at the home club of the current SCGA President.
For someone with aspirations of turning professional later this year, Bhavik Patel proved this weekend why he deserves to. The 21-year-old Bakersfield native muscled his way to the 113th SCGA Amateur Championship, blazing past the competition to finish with an eight-stroke advantage. He fired rounds of 71-71-67-70 for a total score of 9-under par 279 on the Big Canyon CC course.
“I’m still a little speechless at this point,” said Patel. “It’s been a grind all week but this is some of the best golf I’ve played in awhile. I prepared well for this tournament and it seemed to pay off.”
The win is extra sweet for Patel, who is likely playing in his last SCGA Amateur Championship, after coming so close multiple times in the past. He finished fifth at the 2011 tournament and as a 15-year-old in 2006, was the runner-up, losing to Scott McGihon by a stroke and just missing his chance to be the youngest winner in championship history.
“I think I’ve had a little chip on my shoulder when it comes to this event since then, I was actually talking to Scott [McGihon] about it the last two days, because that really was a tough one to swallow,” said Patel. “I’ve come a long way since then though, my golf game has come a long way, and I’m just very, very happy to win.”
The win caps a pretty incredible two-year stretch for Patel, who won the California Amateur Championship in 2011 and then earned medalist honors in the event this year. He will head to Fresno later tonight to compete in a U.S. Amateur qualifier Monday. If all goes according to plan, Patel will turn professional after the USGA event and participate in this year’s Q-school.
Entering the day with a three-stroke lead, Patel played the front nine even with nine pars. He stepped on the gas a bit more on the back, carding a 2-under par with birdies on holes 11 and 14. According to Patel, he didn’t know what kind of lead he had until his second shot on the final hole.
“I didn’t ask anybody where I was on the leader board, so it really didn’t affect how I played,” said Patel. “I just wanted to stick to my game plan.”
Big Canyon CC member Stewart Hagestad and San Diego State golfer Xander Schauffele began the round within striking distance of Patel, three and four strokes back respectively, but were unable to keep up with Patel’s consistency. Schauffele hung in with a final round score of 74 to finish as the championship’s runner-up with a combined score of 1-under par 287, the only player besides Patel to have a combined score under par. Hagestad, who was followed by a moderately sized crowd supporting his every shot, was unable to pull out the home victory, shooting a 78 Sunday to finish in a tie for fourth.
“I didn’t play great, but all the credit to [Bhavik] because that’s such a good score,” said Hagestad. “All in all I’m very proud of myself. I haven’t played a whole lot recently tournament wise, and I’m really proud of the way I tried to commit and grind out every shot.”
McGihon, who in addition to winning the event in 2006 also won in 2000 and 2005, shot one of four under-par rounds Sunday to finish the tournament in third place. The 44-year-old finished with a combined score of 1-over par 289. Kevin Fitzgerald of Riverside rounded out the top five, tying Hagestad for fourth place with a 2-over par 290.
The Big Canyon CC course played extremely tough all weekend, with players constantly commenting on the incredibly impressive and difficult course conditions.
“The staff here should be proud of themselves, because those greens were firmer than the U.S. Amateur,” said Patel.