Steinberg Sees His Way Clear To A Championship
Craig Steinberg knew what he had to do on the final day of the Southern California Golf Association Amateur championship.
Awareness is nothing new to the slightly-built former USC second team All-American who plays out of Braemar Country Club.
"The course played like I thought it would," Steinberg observed. "I figured about a five-over would win the tournament. I'd been playing well all summer and played about like I would have hoped. With eight good golfers that close (within two stokes) you just have to try to do what you do best."
The latest Amateur champion's post-tournament reactions seem quite collected.
And when it came time to take the lead in the home stretch, Steinberg did — and he collected. His scores of 72-72-73-69 — 286 were good for a one-stroke victory over Dave Sheff of Oakmont and James Camaione of Crystalaire.
Finishing fourth last year at his home course, the optometrist from Van Nuys became the second consecutive golfer to win the Amateur the year after it was held at his home course. Greg Starkman of Hillcrest won in 1987.
"I made one bad shot in the second round last year and it cost me a double bogey and maybe the tournament," he recalled.
This time around, the proper judgments came at the proper times. Steinberg's play was steady through the front nine, but he found himself three shots behind 1986 Amateur champion Sheff (playing in Steinberg's group) at the turn.
"On this course the rough is very thick," Steinberg analyzed in retrospect. "You have to keep it in the fairway, or you're in real trouble. And then, too, I was out there with three guys who can blow it by me." Tournament of Club Champions titlist John Pate of La Purisima and perennial top five finisher Mitch Voges of Wood Ranch rounded out Steinberg's group.
Playing a hole behind were the third round tri-leader, Camaione, Paul Goydos of El Dorado, and hometown favorite, Brian Gaddy of Annandale — making a return to the finals 10 years after having won the Amateur at Bel-Air — plus 1987 California Amateur finalist Bob May
At the 14th hole, a 431-yarder which makes two right turns on its way up the canyon, the drama began to unfold. Steinberg made a 15-foot downhill birdie putt to move to one-under-par for the day.
Camaione answered with a birdie at the par-3, 139-yard 15th. Steinberg parred that hole, but Sheff bogeyed.
Pate had made a mini-move with an impressive eagle at the 493-yard 13th. Voges was right with them, playing even par through 15. Gaddy had dipped, making the turn at three-over, but gained one back at the 11th.
And coming up, the 16th hole — Annandale's signature test, 427 yards of challenge. After a drive from the elevated tee, a greenside lake to the right must be negotiated and bunkers at the left require pinpoint accuracy.
Pate bogeyed the hole. Voges doubled. Sheff had to settle for a bogey after a fine drive when his approach landed in the water. Steinberg put his second shot in a bunker.
"We're looking at a bogey," he muttered while surveying his situation. "I was looking to see how much grass I had between the cup and the lake in case my chip was long," he added later. He came out of the sand to within five feet and buried the putt for a par.
"I had gone bogey, double bogey, double bogey, on that hole, so that par was big. I was five over for the tournament on that hole." The par tied him with Sheff, but only until the latter bogeyed the par-3 17th.
Challengers were running out of real estate. When Camaione came to No.16, he chose to lay up on his second shot and depend on his very solid short game. His shot to the green betrayed him, the ball bounding past the hole, forcing him to two-putt for a bogey.
Gaddy rebounded from a bogey at 16 with a birdie at the 17th. Camaione had a chance to tie with a long putt at 18, but could not. Steinberg neatly put his final two pars in the bag for the day's only sub-par round.
While Steinberg actually led the tournament for just a couple of holes, he was never far off the pace. He fired a pair of 72s during Friday's withering double round (temperatures were nearing 100 degrees). That left him three strokes behind Rick Sanders (69) in the first round and Camaione (141) after the second round. Still, even with the worst round, a 73, Steinberg was within two of the lead after 54 holes.
Sheff, whose win at Hillcrest was threatened when he left his ball in a bunker twice in the late going, played solidly. "Those bogeys (at 15-16-17) look worse when they're bunched like that," he said philosophically.
For Camaione, who has been close in nearly every tournament he's been in since his third place finish at Braemar a year previously, it was "close, but..." again. Even his highest score, a third-round 74, marked by a double bogey on — you guessed it — 16, left him tied for the lead going into the final day. He'll be among the favorites at October's SCGA Mid-Amateur.
Saturday's third round saw Goydos make the biggest move with a sparkling 67, one of only six sub-par rounds during the tournament and the best, by two strokes. It included an eagle two at the 358-yard 10th hole. But after going out in par Sunday, he couldn't find a par between the 11th and 17th, finishing with a 78 to leave him seven strokes back. May also faded on the final day, to a 77.
Current CGA champion Don Parsons finished 12 strokes off the pace.
Defending champion Greg Starkman, who has enjoyed a fine year since his victory a Braemar, didn't make the cut. Neither did 1987 SCGA Mid-Amateur champion Steve Lass, nor 1988 U.S. Open qualifier Pat Duncan.
Steinberg went to the optometry school at USC and didn't even start to play varsity golf until his senior year. When he did though, success came in a hurry. He was 1980 Pac-10 champion, finished 14th in the NCAA meet, and wound up with his name alongside those of Hal Sutton, Fred Couples, Gary Hallberg, Bob Tway, Bobby Clampett, Clarence Rose, and Jodie Mudd on the All-American list.
Did he consider turning pro? "For about five minutes in 1980," Steinberg answers with a grin. "No, I made the decision to be a good amateur player and I'm not sorry."
A more recent decision he made was to play more golf this season. That choice has rewarded him with a good summer, including a runner-up finish in stroke play and a quarterfinal berth at the CGA championship at Pebble Beach (he beat Sheff in the second round)
Steinberg feels he's a better player at 30, than he was as a collegian. The reason? Experience. "I know more about the game."
Opponents know more about Steinberg's game now. It's a winning one.
Eight-handicapper Brady Winter of Sierra La Verne ran off and hid in the President's Flight for those with 5-8 handicaps. He backed up a gross 75 Saturday with a final round 77 for a net total of 136 and a four-stroke victory.
Brian Fast of Industry Hills nailed two consecutive 81s, to total 138 with his 12 handicap, and claim a two-stroke win in the Vice President's (9-12) Flight.
Al Clement of the affiliate club Golf Adventures Players, held off Antelope Valley's Martin Husted in the Secretary's (13-18) Flight. With his 16 handicap, Clement totaled 139, one better than 14-handicapper Husted, who improved his score by six strokes the second day.