The Greening of Pat Duncan

One of the subtle attractions of the SCGA Amateur championship is the spectrum of personalities who manage to win the thing.

A year ago, a soft-spoken, determined UTEP freshman boldly turned back more experienced competition to win the nation's oldest continuously conducted amateur golf event. With a year of college golf seasoning, Paul Stankowski of CBC Port Hueneme was right back in a position to repeat when the 91st renewal of the Amateur was played at Wilshire Country Club.

But this was a year for what observers of the game at sub-pro levels call the quintessential amateur golfer.

Patrick Duncan, who's on his way to landscaping jobs in San Diego County when the first tee time is approaching at most clubs, owns the crown for a year after posting an opening round of 69, then three straight 70s to beat 1990 Western Athletic Conference champion Stankowski by a stroke.

Duncan's generous blond mustache and easy smile might belie his golfing ability. His size and build don't tell his golfing strength (he's not a long hitter). And his swing? Well, SCGA Mid-Amateur champion Mark Johnson played with Duncan for the first time in this year's California Amateur championship. Moving down the first fairway after teeing off, Johnson asked, "You slip, partner?"

Duncan, you see has a way of falling to his right, seemingly awkwardly. The ball, though, most often sails true — which is, after all, what it's all about.

"Yes, this is my kind of course," Duncan commented of Wilshire's 6,531-yard layout after taking a one-stoke lead over Stankowski at the midway point. "Here, you really want to keep it in the fairway. The way Paul and Mitch (Voges, of Wood Ranch) and those guys hit it, I'd better."

"I played so solidly," he recalled later. "In the final round, I hit every green but two and really only made two bad shots (a four-iron tee shot at No. 4 and his tee shot on the finishing hole). But I didn't make any putts... well, one, about a 14-footer at No. 2 (for a birdie). My game has all-around been better. I think I'm developing the right golf muscles and that helps the consistency.

"I was hitting fairways and Paul missed a couple near the end. Luck had a lot to do with that, too, though. On 17, when Paul and I were in the rough about 10 feet apart, mine was sitting up really well and his was down in the stuff."

The vagaries of golf invoked themselves on the final hole, Wilshire's storied 18th.

After Duncan had maintained his consistency for the third round and Stankowski had rebounded with a 68, the defending champion had a one-stoke lead with 18 to go.

He lost it to Duncan's birdie on the second hole, got it back when Duncan bogied the fourth, then lost it for good at No. 6 with a bogey, though the match was tied twice more before it was over. It migh thave been tied a third time (forcing a playoff) but for the fates.

Stankowski's brilliant pitching wedge shot at No. 16 and the subsequent short birdie putt knotted things, but then the 21-year-old senior from Oxnard missed a five-footer for par at No. 17, setting up the dramatics that unfolded before a sizeable crowd gathered near the clubhouse above the 18th green.

Duncan's tee shot went left at the 439-yard final hole, which doglegs across the fabled Wilshire barranca. Swinging a four iron from under a tree and in thick rough, by the time Duncan reached the green he was a long way below the pin and lying three.

Stankowski's drive was perfect, and his next shot missed the green by only three feet. However, his ball stopped behind one of the tall palms to that green's right — directly behind it (aligning the ball with the hole made the flagstick disappear behind the tree).

Stankowski came out eight feet above the hole, but missed the par opportunity from there which would have forced the playoff.

"I had my chances," Stankowski admitted afterward, while noting his three bogies on the last four holes. "But it's fun to lay in an event like this with guys like these, no matter what happens."

"Paul's a class act," Duncan emphasized. "He has golf in the right perspective and I think he can go a long way."

Duncan's brilliant front nine on the final day was marred only by the bogey four at No. 4 (which he got back at the seventh), paving the way to a 33. He then parred in until the 18th.

Though Duncan and Stankowski played to the wire for the title (at a course neither had seen before, incidentally), there wasn't much broad spectrum suspense during the final two rounds. The top four finishers were in that position two rounds earlier.

Stankowski established the credibility of a possible second consecutive championship right out of the blocks during Friday's opening round with a 67.

Only Voges improved (72 to 68) during an afternoon round played in wilting heat. Stankowski slid to a 74. Bob Clark of Bear Creek went form 69 to 74.

That put Voges into good position going into the third round, but a day of frustrating lipped-out putts and other almost resulted in a 75. A scintillating one-bogey 68 on Sunday netted him a tie with Clark at 283 and an awards plate.

Chris Gonzales on Montebello and USC recovered nicely from a potentially fatal opening 76 to record the last three rounds' best score of 70-69-70 and earn fifth place a stoke ahead of Vista Valley's Craig Anderson.

Newly crowned state amateur champion Charlie Wi of Wood Ranch and 1986 SCGA Amateur champion Dave Sheff of Oakmont were among the 32 qualifiers for the final two rounds. Missing the 149 cut were 1988 champion Craig Steinberg of Braemar (for the second straight year) after a nine on the par-four 17th hole; and Randy Drake of Glendora, who chased Stankowski during last year's event at Drake's home course.

Other interesting misses were Steve Lass of Glendora, a former SCGA Mid-Amateur champion; Mike Cottingim, former head professional at Apple Valley, who only recently regained his amateur status; and Austin Maki, the current CIF-SCGA champion and a U.S. Junior finalist in 1989.

Clark recorded a sizzling 66 at Quail Ranch to top all Monday qualifying scores. Among the other qualifying round leaders: John Denny of Brookside and Greg Grohs of Arcadia each shot 71 at Industry Hills (Denny made the cut, Grohs didn't); neither Kemp Richardson nor Robert Finger, both of El Niguel mad the cut despite 68s at San Clemente; perennial challengers James Camaione of Crystalaire (70 at Hesperia) and John Lovett of Meadow Lake (70 at his home course) qualified for the final two rounds, but Patrick Denne of Rancho Maria and Jim Breen of Lake Lindero (69s at Rancho Maria) didn't.

Duncan's history in the SGA Amateur has been quite unlike the consistency he displayed at Wilshire.

In 1984 at San Gabriel CC, he closed strongly after a first round 74 and finished at 287, good for third place, two strokes behind Brad Greer (who was winning his first of two straight titles) and one behind Sam Randolph.

The next year at Virginia CC, Duncan nailed his first career hole-in-one — but failed to make the cut.

In 1986, a second round 75 and a bogey on the 72nd hole of the tournament combined to cost him the crown at Hillcrest. His final round 68 left him a shot behind Dave Sheff.

The next year at Braemar, Duncan finished back in the pack, and at Annandale in 1988, he missed the cut.

Duncan was exempted into the tournament by virtue of his match play qualifying at the CGA, his fourth consecutive visit to the tournament's round of 32.

He's won the San Diego County match play and San Diego City amateur each four times and made the 36-hole cut in the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open in San Diego in 1986. "Pat's done really well down in our area (Rancho Santa Fe)," says his wife, Linda, "But it's great for him to win an important event like this."

After a credible performance in the PCGA, he slipped to a 77-81 in the U.S. Amateur qualifying the following week. "I know a lot of guys can blame their clubs," he said with a typical chuckle, "but I really think it was causing me some problems. I've had stiffer shaft put on to correct the draw I'd been hitting (he naturally fades the ball)."

Duncan, a native of the Rancho Santa Fe area was an all-CIF golfer at San Dieguito High in Encinitas as a junior, and at 6-3 1/2, played basketball as well. "I stopped playing golf the next year — the typical distractions, you know."

Confirming early that his future was in the agriculture field, he went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. "I didn't want the traveling a course design firm requires and didn't figure I wanted to go into the superintendent side of things (he worked at golf course as a teenager.)"

For the past nine years, he's owned his landscape contracting business. The maintenance aspect (upkeep of existing projects) of that industry keeps the company hopping. Duncan's had the opportunity to do a few golf-related projects, such as a mini course at Craig Stadler's home, "but there's not a lot of call for that sort of thing."

He credits the opportunities he has had to enter competition, and the fine tuning of his game to Danny Clifford, who has caddied for Duncan when he's not handling foreman's duties for Duncan Landscaping. Aside from a most regular Sunday round at "The Ranch", Duncan's practice time is usually limited to a two-hour-long putting session once a week.

Duncan and his wife of five years, Linda, have four-year-old Ashley and two-year-old Pat Junior, with a third child due in the fall.

Ah, yes, the swing.

"I tore the cruciate ligament in my right knee right out of college. For some reason, the medical insurance didn't cover it, so it's never been repaired . I can't run and jump, like in playing basketball, but aside form it buckling once in a while, I'm really OK, just a little limited."

"When someone asks me about walking through my swing like I do, I always tell them it's the knee because it's a simpler explanation. And that may have a little to do with it, but it's always been my swing."

With an SCGA Amateur title tucked in his back pocket, Pat Duncan might now feel free to say that he's taking steps in the right direction, in more ways than just on his tee shot.

Commenting is not available on this page.