Padilla Attains His Majority

American youths can grow up to play good golf just about anywhere — Latrobe, Columbus, even Cypress.

But if you grow up in San Diego Country, somehow the chances just seem better that it’ll happen. The line is long, from Bill Casper and Gene Littler to the present day.

So when the name Greg Padilla popped up on the leader board at the Southern California Amateur Championship’s 99th renewal, even though it hadn’t been heard in some time, it shouldn't have been surprising.

The 20-year-old senior at Arizona State set the front nine on fire Sunday to break out of the pack, then cruised home to a two-stroke victory in one of the west’s most important amateur events. And he did it at a course, The SCGA Member’ Club, that he hadn't seen until the week of the tournament.

Padilla beat another San Diego junior product, Mike Samoles of Mission Trails with a seven-under-par total of 277. Another two strokes back was reigning California Amateur champion Ed Cuff, Jr. of Temecula and Bear Creek CC (a former Monte Vista student himself, putting San Diegans clearly atop this year’s leaderboard).

Third round leader Scott McGihon of Bermuda Dunes and Avondale CC lost two strokes to par at the turn and finished a stroke behind Cuff. Current SCGA Mid-Amateur champion Brian Ricketts, who hadn’t been under par the entire tournament, closed with a rush to finish fifth.

Padilla, who turned 21 a week after the championship, hadn’t won a tournament since he captured the San Diego Section CIF individual championship in his senior year at Torrey Pines High School. His team won the CIF-SCGA title that year, but Greg managed only a 76 at Bernardo Heights CC.

He’s been a solid, but unspectacular starter for perennial power Arizona State. Buoyed by the win, he’s looking forward to the coming season with he and another Southern Californian, Granada Hills grad Darren Angel, anchoring the Sun Devils.

In order for Padilla’s strong finish to hold up, challengers had to slip away one by one, which they did.

McGihon, the leader by one going into the final round, made bogey on the par-five fourth hole and after Cuff’s birdie there, found himself two strokes behind his fellow competitors, Padilla had already birdied the first two par-fives to move into a tie with Cuff. That disappeared three holes later when Cuff bogeyed the 348-yard seventh, giving Padilla his first outright lead.

Another big swing came at the ninth, when Padilla “stuck” his approach shot on the elevated green of the ninth hole. He proceeded to birdie the hole and Cuff bogeyed. Padilla led both McGihon and Cuff by three at this point, but Samoles had also birdied nine just ahead of them and trailed by just two strokes. By this time, it was a four-horse race, with McGihon and Cuff holding a five-stroke advantage on the rest of the field after the turn.

When Samoles reached the 10th, he had plenty of momentum. Unfortunately his tee shot from the 226-yard tees did also — too much. His shot went over the green and he bogeyed. Minutes later, so did McGihon and Cuff.

Padilla? He sank his putt for a birdie and a four-stroke lead.

While 10 provided a big swing, it was at the 13th that Padilla really began to get an iron grasp on the trophy. After a poor drive at the course’s longest hole, he was able to save par.

As close as anybody got on the back nine was the final margin and that came only after Padilla missed a short putt form above the hole after his approach at No. 18 had dribbled onto the fringe and the little chip came up short.

In grabbing a three-stroke lead after two rounds, Cuff looked like the player who would finally annex a state amateur title and the SCGA crown in the same year, something that hadn’t happened in more than a half-century. He hit 32 of 36 greens in regulation in firing a 68-69.

Padilla’s victory gets “the kids” back on track. Last year’s fourth career win by Steinberg snapped a string of four consecutive victories by college-age golfers. The way things look now, Greg Padilla will be back to defend his championship at Industry Hills in 1999.

If that’s indeed the case, he won’t be surprising anyone at the SCGA Amateur’s centennial celebration.

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