Throughout its history, SCGA players have been a major factor in USGA championships, winning the U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship 13 times each and the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship 16 times (nearly a third of the times the Junior has been played).
However, by the 1960s, the "Arnold Palmer phenomenon" caused more and more amateurs, particularly those leaving college, to seek fame and riches on the professional circuit, including many of Southern California's best young golfers.
From 1959 onward, more than a dozen former SCGA members went on to capture one or more of the four professional "major" championships: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
Three golfers from San Diego led the way, beginning with Billy Casper, who captured the 1959 and 1966 U.S. Open titles, become just one of 31 golfers who have won two or more U.S. Open championships. Casper also won the 1970 Masters, thus becoming one of just 13 golfers to have won both titles.
Casper's 1959 victory was by a single shot over another former Southern Californian, Bob Rosburg, on the West Course at Winged Foot GC in Maramoneck, NY. Rosburg would go on to capture the PGA Championship that year, edging yet another Southern California professional, Jerry Barber, and Doug Sanders by one shot.
In 1966, Casper broke the golf world's heart when he rallied from six shots back on the back nine at The Olympic Club to tie Arnold Palmer after 72 holes, then shot a 69 the next day to defeat Palmer in a playoff by four shots. Nearly everyone remembers Palmer's collapse, but too few realize that it was Casper's gritty play and superb putting that actually carried the day for him.
Two years after Casper won his first U.S. Open, La Jolla's Gene Littler won the 1961 U.S. Open, defeating Bob Goalby and Doug Sanders by one shot at Oakland Hills CC. Littler's superb amateur career had included winning the 1953 California Amateur Championship and the 1953 U.S. Amateur Championship; he also played on the U.S. Walker Cup team that same year.
Another San Diegan, Scott Simpson, had a stellar amateur career: medalist in the 1976 California Amateur, second in the 1977 SCGA Amateur Championship, winning the 1977 NCAA Division I Championship while representing USC, reaching the third round of the 1977 U.S. Amateur and representing the United States on the 1977 U.S. Walker Cup team.
In 1988, Simpson reached the pinnacle of his golf career when he captured the U.S. Open by one shot over Tom Watson at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Former UCLA star Corey Pavin, whose amateur career began in the 1970s, joined the list of former SCGA members to capture the U.S. Open when he won the 1995 championship at Shinnecock Hills GC. Pavin's four-wood shot to the 72nd hole remains one of the most indelible moments in recent U.S. Open history.
THE MASTERS & BRITISH OPEN
Two former SCGA stars (in addition to Casper) whose amateur careers soared in the 1970s later went on to win the fabled green jacket, emblematic of the champion of The Masters.
Craig Stadler, another of the San Diego contingent who went on to star at USC, won the 1973 U.S. Amateur Championship at Inverness CC, was medalist in the 1974 California Amateur Championship and played on the 1975 Walker Cup team.
Less than a decade later, Stadler secured his green jacket at The Masters when he won a playoff after being tied in regulation with Dan Pohl.
Few amateurs have had a year like Mark O'Meara did in 1979. It began inauspiciously; when the SCGA selected its 10-man team to compete against the North in the annual Roger Lapham Challenge Cup matches which are held as part of the California Amateur Championship, O'Meara didn't make the list.
Fortunately, the South team won anyway because O'Meara went on to hammer medalist Lennie Clements, 8 & 7, in the 36-hole final at Pebble Beach Golf Links. Later that summer, O'Meara went to Cantebury CC in Cleveland, where he won the U.S. Amateur Championship, 8 & 7, over defending champion John Cook of Rolling Hills.
O'Meara went on to a solid professional career, winning 14 times between 1984 and 1997, including five times at what is now the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach.
In 1998, he broke through in the "major" category not once, but twice: winning The Masters after sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole and then becoming the only former SCGA player to capture the British Open later that summer.
THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Southern California's run in the PGA Championship began in 1961, when Jerry Barber rode a red-hot putter to capture the tournament at Olympia Fields CC outside of Chicago. Barber tied Don January at 277 after 72 holes, then shot 67 to edge January by a single shot in the playoff the next day.
In 1966, one of the SCGA's most celebrated alumni, Al Geiberger, captured the PGA Championship by four shots at Firestone CC in Akron, OH.
The slender Geiberger, a former USC Trojan, won the SCGA Amateur Championship in 1956 and 1959 (the latter was to be his eighth consecutive amateur tournament championship) and was runner-up in the 1954 U.S. Junior Amateur to another Southern Californian, Bud Bradley.
Geiberger went on to win 11 PGA Tour events and became the first person to break 60 in a Tour event when he posted a 59 in the Danny Thomas-Memphis Classic.
Yet another former Trojan who played for golf coach Stan Wood, Dave Stockton followed in the footsteps of his USC teammate, Geiberger, when he won the 1970 PGA Championship by two shots over Arnold Palmer and Bob Murphy at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, OK. It was Palmer's third runner-up finish; the PGA remains the only professional major that "The King" didn't win.
Stockton joined the rarified list of multiple winners of the PGA Championship when he finished one shot ahead of Raymond Floyd and Don January in the 1976 championship at Congressional CC in Washington, D.C. Stockton would later go on to win the 1996 U.S. Senior Open, the only former SCGA player to have won that event.