One for Two
Young players lit up the scoreboard and attracted galleries of family and friends to southern Orange County on a perfect summer weekend. But the dominant figure at Tijeras Creek Golf Club for the 106th SCGA Amateur Championship was a 37-year-old middle school teacher and high school golf coach who eased his way through the multitudes alone. Scott McGihon won his second of these championships "flying solo." That's what competitive experience can do for a player of McGihon's considerable talents.
McGihon, who began the final day five shots off the lead, finished with scores of 73-67-71-69 — 279, 9-under-par, a shot in front of UC Irvine student Brian Edick of Valencia. Another shot back was 17-year-old Cameron Tringale of Laguna Niguel, the second and third round leader, who struggled to a 2-over-par 74 and finished third.
The winner, a Bermuda Dunes resident and son of former Log Angeles CC golf professional Glen McGihon, didn't even have a caddie, much less the gallery he's had in the past. "It just worked out like that this time," he said regarding his singular presence.
Realizing he was in the same position he was five years ago at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, his logic was "to get off to a good start and get close heading into the back nine. I played the front nine indifferently all week but for some reason I played the back nine well." The plan worked quite well.
After birdieing his first two holes and shooting 1-under-par 35 on the front side, McGihon turned his game up another notch, making three birdies and six pars on the back, including a birdie 3 on No. 17 that ultimately proved to be the margin of victory.
Edick used his course knowledge to good advantage (the Big West Championship, which included UC Irvine, was played at Tijeras Creek this year). The former Hart High standout improved his score each day from an opening-round 74. Edick made birdie 2 on the 16th hole to pull into a tie for the lead but the 17th hole proved to be pivotal, as Edick made bogey 5 while, moments later, McGihon sank a six-foot putt for his birdie 3. Edick sank a clutch 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to ultimately earn him the runner-up spot but that was still a shot short.
Tringale, whose parents are member at Mission Viejo CC, but who played Tijeras Creek hundreds of times (winning three of the last four junior championships), imploded on the front nine in the final round, making three bogies and a double-bogey en route to a 4-over-par 40. He rallied on the back side with three birdie in eight holes, climbed hack to a share of the lead after the 16th hole, and had a 20-foot chip to force a playoff, which he left four feet short. He missed the resulting par putt to end up in third place.
It was a disappointing ending for the freshman-to-be at Georgia Tech. "a three-shot lead on my home course is pretty (bad) to give up, honestly," Tringale told the Orange County Register's Curtis Zupke, "but it was a good learning (experience) and I'll draw some positives from it,"
After shooting rounds of 70-66 on Friday, his third round was a hard-working 1-under-par 70 that included 16 consecutive pars.
The win in 2000 was on McGihon's mind. "I must have thought about that tournament more than a dozen times today," he said.
"There were a bunch of young guys, including a high school student [Steve Conway, who had won the CIF-SCGA event that year and went on to star at UCLA], in the lead back then," McGihon related after his victory, "same as this year. And like 2000, I was in the next-to-last group, not the last group. I double-bogied the first hole of that tournament and did the same thing this year. I birdied the firs two holes in the last round back then and I did it again this year. So in many ways, this win felt a lot like Rancho Santa Fe.
One major difference was that Edick, Tringale and the next three finishers — Greg Lopez of an Juan Capistrano (68), this year's CIF-SCGA winner, Brett Kanda of La Crescenta (68) and first-round leader Erik Jarvey of Palmdale (67) — all closed strongly to keep the pressure on McGihon. "I gave myself a lot of birdie putts coming down the stretch," McGihon said after his round, "and made just enough of them to win."
That wasn't happening before the final nine holes. McGihon's 71 on Saturday could have easily been a 66, but for the putts that didn't fall — including one hole in which the line had a putter-head mark on the green that diverted the shot at the last second. With his usual smile. McGihon quipped, " but it doesn't matter now."
The back nine was a work of art. "I knew that I had to make great swings, especially on the last few holes," said McGihon later, "and, except for a loose drive on No. 18, it was fun to be able to hit them exactly the way I wanted to." He followed that weak drive on No.18 with a six-iron approach to within 10-feet of the flagstick, only to see the birdie putt slide over the edge. "I was hoping that I wasn't going to regret missing that putt," admitted McGihon. All it cost him was equaling the tournament record for stroke under par for 72 holes of 10-under.
Two back-nine holes proved to be critical. On the 536-yard, par-five 14th his second shot landed under a tree, but McGihon was able to knock a 54-degree wedge shot under a tree limb and over a bunker stiff for a birdie.
After sinking a 15-foot birdie putt there, McGihon knocked a nine-iron shot to within six feet of the flagstick at No.17 and sank what proved to be the winning birdie putt. "I asked a rule official before I hit my approach where I stood in the tournament," said McGihon, who almost never asks for that information. "I needed to know whether I could play safe or if I need to fire at the flag. Cameron had just made birdie to tie for the lead so I knew I had to go for it."
Josh Warthen, the 2003 Southern California Community College champion now at San Diego State, came into the final day just three shots behind Tringale, but had two double-bogeys and didn't birdie a hole until No. 15. He plummeted to a 79 and out of the top 10.
Others withered on Day 4, too, including Orange Countains Robert Caton (Huntington Beach), whose 67 (30 on the front nine) vaulted him into contention on Saturday; and Jordan Nasser of (Anaheim Hill and USC) who was unable to get within six shots of a second round 68. Kanda and Lopez took advantage of those slips with final round 68s of their own to complete the tip five.
Defending champion Tim Hogarth could never get untracked, managing only one sub-par round. Former California Amateur champion Ed Cuff ballooned to a second-round 77 after opening with 68. Still both finished in the top 10, which earns an exemption to next year's renewal at Bakersfield Country club.
McGihon's victory continues a string of strong SCGA Amateur performances. McGihon finished fourth in the 1998 tournament at The SCGA Golf Course (after leading through three rounds) and finished second to John Pate in 1999 at Industry Hills before finally grabbing the "big plate" the next year. He finished fourth in 2002 at El Caballero CC and was runner-up last year to Tim Hogarth at Hillcrest CC.
"I like this tournament," summed up McGihon with a smile after his victory today. "That first victory was special, in part because my family was there. Today was fun because it was so tight all the way; in 2000 I had a big lead coming down the stretch. Plus, as you get older you appreciate the wins even more."
Spoken like a true Mid-Am — the group which has snatched away yet another of these championships from the jaws of the young lions.