John Pate wins first CGA Senior Amateur Championship
Santa Barbara resident John Pate can finally call himself a State champion.
In what was his CGA Senior Amateur Championship debut, Pate carded a final round 2-over 73 and held off a throng of challengers Wednesday, including three-time champion Jeff Burda, to win the annual senior event at the new par-71 Poppy Hills GC by two strokes.
At the 1995 California Amateur Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pate, who just recently turned 55, lost the title 1-up when opponent Jeff Sanday sank a 20-foot putt on the 36th hole.
“It’s a relief. It was kind of a struggle today,” said Pate, who finished the three-day, 54-hole event with a total score of 1-over 214. “I had plenty of chances to win the State Am at Pebble.”
Having entered the final round with a comfy four-stroke lead, Pate got off to a solid start by playing his first six holes at 1-under thanks in part to back-to-back birdies on holes No.5 and No.6.
It was on the par-4 8th, however, that things got slippery. While still on top of the leaderboard, Pate’s drive found a bunker, his ball burying under the lip. A resulting double-bogey whittled his lead over Burda down to two strokes.
“It was such a bad break. I couldn’t get it close to the green,” said Pate, the brother of professional Steve Pate. “I made a mess of that hole. But I still thought I could shoot under par.”
Pate, who was coming off a win at the recent Santa Barbara City Senior Championship and SCGA Four-Ball Championship, did get back to a total of 1-under and re-established his four-stroke lead with a clutch birdie on the par-5 10th. But things weren’t yet settled.
Following a bogey on the 13th, his lead dropped back to three over Burda, who couldn't, however, take advantage of the opportunity, bogeying both the 14th and 15th to drop five shots behind. On the 14th, Burda hit the wrong club, while on the 15th he three-putted.
Earlier in his round, Burda had missed out on other chances. The 2014 SCGA Senior Championship winner was at 1-under through his first eight holes. Yet he wouldn’t be able to capitalize on either the par-5 9th or 10th, having to settle for pars on both holes.
“After No. 8 I felt that with the 9th and 10th coming up, I could birdie one or maybe both. Then anything can happen, especially on this course,” said Burda, who had a 71 to come in at 216. “On the 14th and 15th, those were two or three shots that I threw away. I played okay. I just really struggled with the pace of the greens.”
Burda did try to make one final charge, carding back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th. Pate shut the door, however, thanks in part to a clutch par on the 17th after sticking his 7-iron tee shot to within 12 feet of the flagstick.
“I never thought I had it until I hit that iron on No.17,” Pate said.
Along with Burda, Pate also began the day having to fend off four-time NCGA Player of the Year Casey Boyns and 2014 SCGA Senior Player of the Year and defending champion Jim Knoll.
Both Boyns and Knoll tried to make runs but had to settle for matching 72s, leaving them in a tie for third. Boyns, who won the event in 2012, got to a total of 3-over three times in his round, the last coming on the 10th. Each time, however, the California Golf Hall of Fame member and longtime Pebble Beach caddie went on to bogey either the following hole or ensuing hole.
“I was shaky today,” Boyns said. “I knew my putter was off. I made a few putts but I missed some too. But I’m happy.”
Finishing alone in fifth place at 224 following a 73 was Howie Knodt of Chula Vista. Record six-time NCGA Player of the Year Randy Haag of San Francisco, who was also making his State Senior Am debut, came in T-6 after a 76.