Better Late Than Never

There was a touch of the stuff happy endings are made of at the 88th renewal of the Southern California Golf Association Amateur championship.

Greg Starkman, who lives in Beverly Hills and is a member at Hillcrest Country Club, won the tournament at Braemar CC, withering one opponent after another with consistency and finally claiming the title with room to spare.

His four-round total of 70-71-72-70 — 283 was two shots better than Steve Lass of Glendora CC and three shots up on James Camaione of Crystalaire CC.

The 25-year-old Starkman, a former UCLA golf team member, was playing in his seventh SCGA Amateur. The previous year, when the tournament was held at his home club, Starkman missed the cut after 36 holes.

Three years before that he finished second at Santa Maria CC when a bogey on No. 18 cost him a tie with Dave Hobby of Santa Ana CC. In 1985, he tied for fourth, but everyone was miles behind Brad Greer at Virginia CC, who won by 11 strokes.

The slender, curly-haired Starkman wasn't to be denied in 1987, however.

"I've really gotten it together this summer — for the first time in five years," he said. "I really didn't hit it that well, all four days, but I tried just not to make a mistake."

"The key to me was keeping the drives in the fairway. My putting...I had eight three-putts, but I think maybe everybody did. I felt my putting was real solid the entire tournament."

His final round of par 70 left him three over par for the tournament and two strokes in front of another consistent shooter, Lass, of Glendora. After an opening round 74, Lass went 70-72-69.

On the other hand, midway leader Mitch Voges faltered with a 77 on Saturday and eventually finished tied for seventh with third-round leader Bob May. Voges, of Wood Ranch GC, had fashioned his game as a junior golfer at Braemar; although he'd played only one recent practice round there, his general course knowledge made him a solid choice until the end of his Saturday round.

Just the previous month, Voges had advanced to the second round of match play at the California Amateur championship by defeating Starkman in a first round match.

May, the popular young third-round leader lost his one-stoke edge to Starkman at No. 3 on Sunday, then exited the hunt at No. 13 where he hit into a bush off the tee, then found the greenside lake and finished with a seven. His final round was 78; he and Voges finished seven shots behind Starkman.

It was another disappointment on the brink for the personable Los Altos High grad, who's headed for Oklahoma State this fall. May had gained the finals of the California Amateur before losing, and earlier had come within a stroke of qualifying for the U.S. Open.

Richard Greenwood, a current UCLA team ember out of El Caballero CC (located across Reseda Boulevard from Braemar), was never far off the pace until the 16th hole on Sunday. There he hit two consecutive tee shots out-of-bounds and carded a nine. Nevertheless, Greenwood's record put him in one of the favorite's positions for the 1988 event. He was sixth a year ago, giving him the best two-year record of anyone.

Greenwood put himself in contention Saturday with a 69, highlighted by a hole-in-one on the 169-yard eighth. For the second year in a row, he led his qualifying tournament the previous Monday. He had a 70 at South Hills CC. Starkman shot 73 at the same site, Lass a 75.

Greenwood won't have to qualify in 1988. He also made match play at the CGA event, which accords exempts status to an SCGA Amateur entrant.

Mounting a strong rally for third place was Camaione, who lives in Ontario and plays out of Crystalaire CC. He was eight strokes off the pace at the halfway point, but had the best final two rounds of anybody — 70-68.

The home course favorite, Craig Steinberg, had a Friday afternoon 76 ruin his chances. He finished at 72-69 and was all alone in fourth.

Tying Greenwood for fifth was another strong finisher, lefthander Chris Wood of Newport Beach, who went 68-71 on the final 36 holes.

The ups and downs of the immaculately prepared Braemar course took their toll on players from all flights.

Friday, a light rain threatened to add an unforeseen element to the thick brush skirting the fairways and the difficult greens.

Saturday, a pin placement at the No. 12 hole was changed after one flight following a 16 recorded in a morning round that included 14 putts. Ironically, it didn't matter where the pin was Friday morning when Don Nourse of Big Canyon teed off at the 151-yard hole. His shot went in the cup and he went on to record a first-round low of 68.

That wasn't all that happened to Nourse in this year's Amateur (see accompanying story).

Sunday, play was delayed in the championship flight for an hour to loosen congestion at No. 2, a par three which has a green surrounded by out-of-bounds. One early round player pumped seven shots OB there.

Trouble on the course didn't elude Starkman either. On the seventh hole, he had to hit a seven-iron shot out of a bush and let it roll down a hill to the fairway. His finesse was sufficient for a bogey in a situation that could have been, as Starkman admitted later, a double-figure hole.

Starkman bogeyed the infamous second hole, but balanced the books right away with a birdie at No. 3.

After going out in one over, he bogeyed the 10th before starting a stretch of three-under-par golf that lasted until the 18th.

"The birdie at 11 really got me pumped up," Starkman recounted. "I wasn't hitting the ball too well until then. The drive at 16 sealed it. It's the toughest driving hole there is. I had a double bogey there Friday when I hit a four iron into the hazard, so I just wanted to keep it in the fairway." he did so and got his par.

Lass, 28, of Altadena, gained second by birdieing the 18th. A bogey at 17 had put him out of reach of the title, despite a back-nine score of 33.

Camaione had the final day's best round, a 68, but there was simply too much ground for him to make up. He had one of only three birdies on the day at the 17th, an uphill 357-yard par 4, when he hit his approach shot to within 18 inches of the cup and sank the putt.

Steinberg was the only player among the leaders to post a subpar front side. That was a direct result of an eagle on the 514-yard seventh hole.

In the end though, it was Greg Starkman's steady course that finally brought him an SCGA Amateur title.

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