Wi Can Do It!
Wi won the California Amateur five years ago, weeks after finishing high school at Westlake. His collegiate career completed with a Pac-10 championship for California, Charlie cashed in on the dues he's paid by leading wire-to-wire at Santa Ana.
"I finally won an SCGA Amateur," he said afterward. After finishing tied for seventh at Wilshire in 1990, Wi missed the cut in 1991 at Bel-Air, but bounced back for a fourth-place finish at Fairbanks Ranch in 1992. He was 16th the next year at Brentwood and third last year at Hacienda.
"I just kept plugging away," said Wi after this year's final round, "trying to hold things together, and finally made some big putts on 16 and 17."
His 280 total at Santa Ana was two strokes higher than his 1994 score, but the only one-under-par for this event.
He shared the first round lead with Jim Lundstrom of Desert Dunes and reigning state amateur champion Jeff Sanday after all three had 69s Friday morning. Wi's round was highlighted by a back nine of 31, where he posted six 3s on his score card while carding four birdies and five pars.
Wi backed that up with a one-under 70 that afternoon to lead the field of 42 into the final two rounds by two strokes.
Saturday, 18-year-old USC-bound Jorge Corral stunned the field and observers with a 63, a score which had an effect on everyone except, seemingly, Wi.
Corral's course record-tying performance left him two strokes behind Wi, who had his highest score of the weekend, playing the course in even par.
The last person to shoot a 63 at Santa Ana was a fellow named Fred Couples, and he needed an eagle three at the 18th to do it (No. 18 was played as a four-par during the championship). One thing about Corral's card: no fives — no bogies, a birdie on each of the par fives, and eight birdies overall. He played the front nine in five-under-par 31.
"My swing was pure early in the round and I birdied the first two holes. Then I made some putts and things started to happen," Corral recounted. "On the back nine, I started thinking about how well I might finish, but my dad (Humberto, also his caddy) helped me concentrate. I was focused."
After sinking key putts of 4-5 feet for par on 16 and 17, Corral slid a one-footer in the side door on 18 for the 63. His previous best rounds were 65 and 64.
But Corral's stunning third round didn't product the cushion Tiger Woods got last year when he shot a 62 at Hacienda on Saturday. Corral had opened with a 76 and he was unable to break par on either of his other two rounds.
But the Saturday score endeared the shy soft-spoke San Ysidran to the gallery, and surely to his future USC teammates. Jorge's caddy might have been more excited than he was.
Meanwhile, Wi was far from error free, but his magical irons more than made up for any of that. Those, and his putter during clutch time on the last four holes, after Lundstrom and Corral had closed the gap to but a single stroke.
Wi's margin of two strokes over Corral going into the final round might have been considerably more, had he not stumbled at the finish Saturday. After birdieing holes 9 through 13, for the only time in the tournament Wi bogeyed one of the five 3-pars — No. 17.
Then, for his second shot at No. 18, Wi decided to go for the pin, spotted near the center of the green. The shot leaked off to the left and bounced into the lake.
"In the first two rounds, I hit driver through the fairway (on 18)," explained Wi, "so I hit a three wood today and left myself 215 yards form the flagstick. I tried to aim it at the right-hand bunker, but as I was making my downswing, I just couldn't make myself hit it there. Still, I thought I had plenty of club.
"In retrospect, it was probably a bad decision to go for it (Obviously, since I came up 25 yards short, it was a terrible shot), but it's over and I can't do anything about it now."
Pars on those holes, of course, would have left Wi with a five-shot lead. He wasn't to get those holes back till the next day.
The steady rain that rolled up the coast from the south Sunday morning didn't begin to clear out until the last groups were almost to the turn. It took its toll as Corral and Wi each played the front in one-over, while Lundstrom washed out a bogey-par-bogey start with birdies at five and eight. At that, Wi needed pretty sand recoveries at both 7 and 8 to get up and down for pars. "Seems I've always had the sand," he said smiling in reference to his deftness with the wedge.
Lundstroms mini-run at the lead consisted of nifty pars at 14 and 15. He passed Corral at 15 when Jorge bogied the hole by clipping the lip of a fariway bunker, then after a magnificent recovering approach shot, putting off the green.
"I hit horrible tee shots on 1 and 3," Lundstrom admitted, "but I came back and gave myself a lot of chances (he was within one shot after 15). Charlie really pulled it together at the end; that's what champions do."
Wi, indeed, took over. His second shot at No. 16 landed 12 feet above the hole on the treacherous front-sloping green. Tapping it gently, the putt crept down the hill and did a 270 into the cup. "I was mainly concerned with getting it on line; when I hit it, I didn't think it was going to go in, but it did that big curl and dropped. That was a big moment."
At the par-three 17th, his tee shot landed 40 feet to the left of the pin. Playing the slight right-hand break perfectly, he canned it, wrapping things up.
Wi wasn't quite finished, however. His second shot at 18 landed in the bunker guarding the left-hand pin placement. He blasted up to within three feet, then down for his initial SCGA tournament victory.
Wi didn't exactly spring out of the box, playing his first nine holes Friday in two-over. He got it together, and it left him paired with Lundstrom and Sun Valley's Mark Johnson on Saturday.
Johnson, second to Woods a year ago, current Mid-Amateur and Tournament of Club Champions winner and two-time State Amateur medalist, seemed in position to make another run at the elusive SCGA Amateur. It wasn't to be. After two even-par rounds Friday, he was eight over the rest of the way.
For Jason Gore, who's headed for Pepperdine this fall after winning two Pac-10 titles at Arizona, it was a ride tantamount to one of the coasters at his hometown attraction, Magic Mountain. An opening 77 was backed up with a 68. Then, he slumped to a 76 Saturday before finishing with a masterful 68 and a fourth place finish.
California Amateur champion Jeff Sanday was shaking his head in frustration, mirroring many golfers' reaction to Santa Ana, a course with benign yardage, but rife with strategic bunkering and tough greens.
"You feel it shouldn't be that difficult to score here," he said during his best round of the tournament, a Saturday 70, "but it is."
Soaring to a 75 Sunday left him tied for fifth with Chad Wright of Wood Ranch and USC at 290.
Will Wi be back for more? "I'm going to remain an amateur for another year (while completing his education at Cal), so, yes, I plan to be back."
No reason to think that Charlie won't be the man to beat at Santa Maria CC next July.