USC's Rico Hoey wins 117th SCGA Amateur Championship
Rico Hoey collected the biggest win of his junior golf career at Torrey Pines GC in 2012 at the Callaway Junior World Championship. Just four years later, and 30 miles inland, Hoey earned what he calls "the biggest win of his career thus far," dominating the 117th SCGA Amateur Championship at Barona Creek GC to add his name to a trophy that already includes the likes of Tiger Woods, Al Geiberger, John Merrick and Beau Hossler.
"I'm speechless," said Hoey. "I honestly don't have the words to describe what winning this event means to me. I'm honored."
Hoey held a share of the lead at the conclusion of all three days of play, beginning with Friday's marathon 36-hole affair in which the eventual champion blazed the course for a combined 13 birdies and one eagle. Red numbers on the scorecard were not hard to come by for Hoey all weekend, as the USC rising senior put together rounds of 66-70-66-67 for a four-round total of 19-under par, setting a scoring record for most strokes under par for the SCGA Amateur that had previously been set by Scott Travers in 2010 at La Cumbre CC at 16-under. Travers had snatched the record away from Tiger Woods, who had previously held it since 1994.
"To know that I've set the scoring record, that's really huge for my confidence," said Hoey. "It shows that I can make some birdies out there and get it done. Hopefully it's able to stand for a long time."
Hoey, a 20 year old from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is coming off an impressive junior season at USC, which culminated with a second-place finish at the NCAA Individual Championship after leading the Trojans with a career-best 70.85 stroke average for the season. He would earn a PING All-American second team honor, and be asked to represent Team USA at the Arnold Palmer Cup, an annual team golf competition between American college golfers and European college/university golfers.
But for Hoey, an individual victory has been a long time coming. He won the 2014 Gifford Collegiate at Cordevalle, but despite a number of impressive performances of late, had yet to win a major amateur title; that is until now. Hoey's victory at the SCGA Amateur Championship comes against an extremely impressive field that featured some of the top amateur golfers in Southern California, including top collegians, high schoolers and mid-ams. But Hoey took advantage of his length off the tee, consistent iron play and a streaky putter to make it look easy, besting the rest of the field by 4 strokes for the victory.
Taking advantage of the Barona Creek GC's par 5s, Hoey, who is currently ranked No. 21 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, played the longer holes in 9-under par during the four rounds. At one point during the final round of play, Hoey hit a drive on the 471-yard par-4 5th hole that was estimated at 390 yards. Later, on the course's par-4 14th hole, which was playing up at only 275 yards on Sunday, Hoey hit an iron onto the green, giving himself a shot at an eagle putt. He would settle for a birdie, part of a three-hole stretch in which he birdied every hole. In fact, Hoey had four different stretches throughout the tournament in which he collected a birdie or better on three or more consecutive holes.
However what may have been most impressive about Hoey's play at Barona Creek was his ability to bounce back from a blemish, although collecting them far and few between. With just 11 bogeys in four rounds, Hoey was able to come back with an immediate birdie seven times right afterwards, never allowing himself to lose momentum. This would be of importance Sunday, when he entered with a 1-stroke lead, extended it to 3 early, before letting it slip back to 1 after a tough break on the sixth hole, where his ball found a rock behind the green and bounced nearly 100 yards away from the hole and onto the fringe of the 7th green. He would bogey for the first time in the round.
With his playing partner Clay Feagler making birdie on the same hole, Hoey's early lead became instantly minuscule. And after hitting into the front bunker on his next tee shot on No. 7, a par 3, Hoey hit the shot of the day out of the sand, hitting the flag stick with the ball before dunking it in for a birdie. His lead immediately returning to 2, and the Championship never got closer than that.
"I tugged my shot into the bunker and I saw Clay hit it to 15, so I just wanted to get it up and down. Luckily it went in," said Hoey.
Feagler, who will play his college golf at Pepperdine beginning this Fall, would eventually finish in third place, turning in a 1-under par round Sunday to finish at 14-under par 274 overall. Jumping up the leaderboard and claiming second place was 17-year-old 2015 SCGA Match Play Champion Dan Erickson, who matched Hoey's final round of 67, and did so with just one bogey. Rounding out the Top 5 was P.J. Samiere of San Diego State, who finished at 13-under, and recent California Amateur Runner-Up and 2016 State High School Champion Hidetoshi Yoshihara, who had the low round of the day at 7-under 65. The low round of the tournament came Friday morning off the clubs of Pepperdine star Roy Cootes, who shot an opening round 8-under par 64 before finishing the tournament T15.
Other notables in the field included 2004 Champion Tim Hogarth, who finished 10th, and defending champion Nathan Celusta, who finished 21st. Next year's Championship will be held at Mission Hills CC July 6-9, 2017. Due to the expected heat, the tournament format will change to four days of 18-hole play, as opposed to the traditional 36-hole opening day followed by two days of 18 hole stroke play.