Young Paul Tames The Trees

A tournament on the order of the Southern California Golf Association Amateur championship can by nature be expected to provide the unexpected regularly.

The event brings together golfers of widely varied style, experience and adaptability. The unpredictable nature of golf courses themselves adds even more spice to this surprising smorgasbord.

So how unlikely was it that Paul Stankowski would win the 90th renewal of the Southland's premier amateur event and the nation's oldest continuously contested such tournament?

Pretty unlikely, really. Unless you were in the gallery and watched the 19-year-old CBC Port Hueneme Golf Course member's tenacity facing three veteran scratch players, each with twice his experience.

Stankowski, who's in his junior year at the University of Texas El Paso fired a 72-hole total of 279, five strokes off the tournament record and three better than runner-up Randy Drake, the home-course favorite.

This was the first time Stankowski had entered the SCGA Amateur (he's the youngest to win it since Jeff Hart in 1979).

He hadn't won a major tournament since his prep days at Hueneme High School, despite having played No. 1 or No. 2 for UTEP during the past season.

Moreover this tournament has been dominated by mid-ams (post-college age players) in the years since Brad Greer won it twice in a row.

And Stankowski opened an undistinguished 73.

But during the next three rounds he gained nine strokes on the 30-year-old Drake, who had the tournament's low round to open play Friday — a 67.

Two of the tournament's eight sub-70 rounds belonged to Stankowski — two middle round 68s. That left him with a 209 total going into the final day, just a shot better than La Cumbre's John Pate and Sun 'N' Sky's Mark Johnson, each of whom had a fling at playing professionally before returning to the amateur ranks.

Sunday afternoon, Johnson caught Stankowski first, birdieing the par-three second hole while Stankowski had to make a fine bogey-saving pitch after rolling into the lake.

But Johnson, who won the CIF-SCGA Invitational in 1972 as a Barstow High School student, and the national Pro-Am Skins Game (with Silver Lakes pro Larry Babica) last year, gave it back when he drove out-of-bounds on the 481-yard, par-five fifth hole.

Pate, meanwhile, had offset a bogey at the par-four fourth by birdieing both par fives on the front nine, and was tied with Stankowski through eight. But Pate, a tournament qualifying exemptee by virtue of finishing fourth in last year's event at Annandale, hooked his tee shot into a backyard along the ninth fairway, taking a double bogey.

The last time the competition was in doubt was after Stankowski bogied that par-three 13th hole. He promptly rammed in a 10-footer at No. 14 to regain his two-shot lead, then salted it away with another birdie at No. 16.

For good measure, he sank an 18-footer to birdie the final hole, recovering from a tee shot which landed among Glendora's trees along the left side of the double-dogleg fairway.

Drake started the day three stokes behind Johnson and Pate and steadily gained. He bogied only the 10th hole on his way to a sparkling 69, the final day's best round. Much to the delight of his east San Gabriel/Pomona Valley fans in the gallery, he birdied each of the last two holes to move him past Pate, who erased a birdie at 17 with a bogey six at 18, and into second place.

Nailing down the fifth place plate was Lakeside's Dave Olsen, who played par golf for the tournament, finishing at 288. 1986 champion Dave Sheff was among three who finished two strokes behind that.

The expected stifling weather smiled a little on the golfers. Although it was in the 90s all three days, a breeze and lower-than-anticipated smog level eased conditions.

Stankowski, who's been playing golf since age 8, gave considerable credit to his caddie, older brother Tom, 25, and a former star at Arizona State and now Golden State Tour player. "He knows what he wants his caddie to tell him during tournaments," Paul related, "so he knew what to tell me."

While Paul had what he called a "terrible" NCAA tournament, his game had obviously improved into the summer. His 66 at Sunset Hills CC in SCGA Amateur qualifying was second only to Sunset Hills member Bill Brooks' 65. The previous week, he'd won the 36-hole Oxnard City Championships at River Ridge.

And now only two players younger than Stankowski can claim an SCGA Amateur crown — Al Geiberger (1965) and Doug Clarke (1977) were champions at 18.

After the first round, only two players had gotten within tow strokes of Drake's lightning start. Steve Collins of Big Canyon and Harry Rudolph, former La Jolla High School star now at Oklahoma State, each had 69s. Both fell back, though, and finished with 79s.

California Amateur medalist Jerry Michals of San Luis Rey Downs was among those with tree trouble at Glendora. After two opening, even-par rounds, he faded to 76-80. James Camaione of Crystalaire, a top-five finisher in each of the last two Amateurs, never got untracked after an even-par first round. He finished at 14 over par.

The tournament's only hole-in-one was made during the second round by El Niguel's Mike Bestor, who lost a playoff for the CIF-SCGA Invitational championship earlier in the summer at Bakersfield Country Club. Bestor knocked in a five-iron shot a the 172-yard 15th hole and as it turned out, the shot made the cut for him. Thirty-three players started the third round at 149, Bestor's two-round total.

Among those who didn't qualify for play Saturday was defending champion Craig Steinberg of Braemar. "When you don't know where it's (your tee shot) going, you're in trouble," he said afterward, noting he'd developed an unwanted hook in recent weeks. Steinberg shot 74-79.

Matt Engelman was carrying the colors of Del Rio CC in Brawley, but fell two strokes short on Friday. Del Rio is the home club of SCGA president Jim House and would have been the site of the Amateur, but for the 113-degree average temperature (and high humidity) in the Imperial Valley during July.

Randy Reznicek of The Farms GC, who made the semifinals of the Trans-Mississippi Tournament the previous week, could manage only an 80-74. A former SCGA Amateur champ, Bud Ardell of Bakersfield, fell three stokes short of 152.

Of the 10 golfers who recorded the low qualifying scores at six sites the previous Monday, only three — Johnson, Rudolph, and Raymond Fawcett of Rancho California finished in the upper half of the final standings. Five didn't make the cut.

Only one of the three handicap flights provided any drama. In the Vice President's Flight for 9-12 handicappers, winner Mike Arnold of Rancho Sierra had to hold off a second round challenge by Tom McGrane, who was playing on his home course. Arnold, who had a first round 63 (gross 75) won by two strokes.

Frank Gonzales of Anaheim Dad Miller opened the President's Flight (5-8 handicaps) with a 64 (gross even par 72) and wound up winning by seven strokes.

Robert Yang of the Taiwanese-American GA affiliate club breezed by firing gross scores of 78 and 75 for a net total of 127 and a 15-stroke victory in the Secretary's Flight (13-18 handicaps).

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