It's a story as old as golf itself. Young tyro wins a string of big junior tournaments and then heads off into the adult world, where he quickly learns that it's not as easy as it looked as a teenager. Grandiose dreams meet harsh reality. He either grows up or washes out.
Two years ago, Brett Kanda lived that story. He capped a highly successful high school senior year by shooting a 6-under-par 66 (with eight birdies) at The SCGA Golf Course to win the 35th CIF-SCGA Southern California High School Championship. Six weeks later, he used a final-round 68 at Tijeras Creek Golf Club to finish fifth in the SCGA Amateur, four shots behind champion Scott McGihon.
Then he went off to college at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where he met the harsh reality of college golf. He redshirted his first year. Last summer, he came back to Bakersfield CC for the 2006 SCGA Amateur, where he tied for sixth, three shots behind McGihon (who was winning his second consecutive title).
Then he went back to school. "He had been a solid junior player and redshirting last year gave him an understanding of what he needs to do here academically and athletically," said UNLV coach Dwaine Knight before last season.
Kanda concurred. "Since I redshirted my freshman year," said Kanda, "last year was my first competitive season. There were good time and struggles. My high point was finishing ninth in the conference championship. But throughout it, Coach Knight was teaching us how to win, how to compete in big tournaments. I called on a lot of that this weekend."
Give Kanda highest marks for absorbing the lessons. The 20-year-old La Crescenta resident shot 68 superb holes of golf at Victoria Club in Riverside and that was enouh to win the 108th SCGA Amateur Championship by three shots over UC Irvine grad Brain Edick of Valencia, who finished runner-up for the third consecutive year.
Kanda thus becomes just the second CIF-SCGA champion to come back and win the SCGA Amateur. The only other person to complete that double was a skinny kid named Woods, who won the high school title as a freshman and set records for single round and 72-hole total scores in winning the 1994 SCGA Amateur at Hacienda Golf Club, before heading off to become the legendary Tiger.
Although Kanda's win wasn't wire-to-wire, it was close. He was a stoke behind Bucky Coe after the first round but quickly seized the lead in the second round and never let go. After shooting 68-66 — 134, 8-under-par, in the 36-hole marathon on Friday to take a four-shot lead over Laguna Niguel's Sean Shahi, Kanda increased his lead to five shots despite shooting only a 1-under-par 70, as high temperatures and the narrow Victoria Club course (which was lined by thick, U.S. Open-style rough) took their toll on the field.
Through those three rounds. Kanda made just five bogeys along with 10 birdies and two eagles (on the same nine, one when he holed a 100-yard sand-wedge shot on the par-4 10th hole). After his third round, Kanda told reporters, "I'm not going to play safe; I'm going to keep hitting the same clubs and doing the same thing because they're working. I want to put the hammer down from the beginning tomorrow."
And so it happened, at least for the first nine, where Kanda posted four birdies and just one bogey, good for a 3-under-par 32. At that point, he was seven shots ahead and if he could have shot 3-under-par for the final nine, he would have broken Tiger's record.
Suddenly, it all seemed to disappear. Kanda made a double-bogey 6 on the 10th hole when he yanked his drive into think rough on the left ("The rough is a killer there," he said later), leaving him with no choice but to punch back into the fairway. Kanda compounded his problems with bogeys on Nos. 11 and 13.
Meanwhile, Edick, who began the day seven shots behind Kanda, rang up birdies on three early back-nine holes and suddenly the lead was down to two shots. "I was never worried," said Kanda, "because I knew I had two short par-5 holes coming up." Kanda birdied both of those holes and Edick could do no better than par in the rest of the way.
"There's always pressure when you have a big lead," said Kanda. "Things start to pop in your head and you have to find a way to control your emotions. You try to stay focused, and I did a good job. You never are really 100 percent used to it, but you just have to adapt to it,"
For Edick, it was an all-too-familiar story, except this time the margin wasn't one shot. "I didn't hit the ball well enough to win," said Edick. " I knew I had to keep the pedal down the entire round but I let the rough get away. Realistically, I thought I had a chance of catching him (Kanda) today but, at the same time, I was so far back coming in at second almost feels like a win. This one didn't hurt as much as the other ones."
Coming into the tournament, three golfers were chasing significant history but only one came close.
Newly crowned California Amateur champion Josh Anderson (see page 22) was bidding to become the first golfer since Johnny Dawson in 1942 to win the California Amateur and the SCGA Amateur title in the same year but came up four shots short after shooting a final-round 68 that included a hole-in-one on the fifth hole. Earlier in the tournament, Anderson had eagled the 300-yard second hole after he knocked his drive to within eight feet of the hole.
Two-time defending champion Scott McGihon of Bermuda Dunes closed with a 1-under-par 70 and finished T13, the only mid-amateur to appear in the top 15. McGihon had been unable to practice as much as he wanted prior to the even. "I really wanted to take a run at it," said McGihon, who was bidding to become the first person ever to win three consecutive titles and just the fourth to win four titles overall. "I think I could have done some damage on this course, but it wasnt't to be."
Four-time winner Craig Steinberg was never a threat. "I just can't putt anymore," he lamented after the final round. "Too bad, because this was a course I should have scored well on."
Instead, it was Kanda leading the parade of collegians taking a big step into big-time amateur golf. "It's a good confidence-builder," said Kanda while savoring his triumph and thinking of tournaments to come this summer and then returning to school.