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RANCHO SANTA FE, Nov. 9 -- After a blistering 62 in the first round of the 2010 SCGA Four-Ball Championship, two-time defending champions George Downing and Kevin Marsh looked poised for the event’s first ever three-peat. Marsh carded a 65 on his own ball that day, while partner Downing did his part as well with a 69. As teams turned in their scorecards after day one, you could feel a sense of deflation as though the tournament was already over. Head Professional at The Farms, Don Sandberg, was even shocked at the leader board and asked, “How many holes did those guys play!” And so day one ended – the champs up by three, but several heavy hitters were still in the mix a few shots back.
After a light rain on Monday morning, Tuesday proved to be the San Diego weather that everyone came to enjoy. The course was in prime condition and after the greens had dried out, course superintendent, Troy Mullane, reported a stimp meter reading of 12. Despite the ideal conditions, the course setup and hole locations were arguably more difficult, and the average score rose by nearly one stroke on this final round.
Downing and Marsh didn’t get off to the start they had hoped for. Downing’s approach shot on one plugged just outside the greenside bunker, leaving an awkward chip shot which led to a bogey. When Marsh’s six-foot putt for par did a 180 degree lip-out, it marked the team’s first bogey of the championship.
“Days like this can happen when no one in the entire group can get anything going. Unfortunately you just start to feed off that,” said Downing at the turn. While they turned at one-under par for the second round, fellow competitors Bucky Coe and Spencer Thurn turned at one-over par…it was now anyone’s game.
In the meantime, Jason Bittick and Harry Rudolph made the turn at four-under par, putting them in a tie with Downing and Marsh at 11-under par for the tournament. David Bartman and Robert Funk made the turn at three-under par, which left them just one stroke behind the leaders.
“I figured we would need to shoot 64 today, and on top of that, get some help from Downing and Marsh,” said Bittick. Well, the stage was set.
Like any championship event, the tournament usually starts on the back nine of the final round. While Bartman and Funk had to settle for a bogey-5 at the difficult 10th, Bittick and Rudolph made birdie, igniting a back nine that would prove to be impossible for any other team to match.
Rudolph later admitted, “After we found out we were tied at the turn, and once we were able to make birdie at 10 and 11, we knew we were in contention to win the tournament.”
Bittick and Rudolph are two of the SCGA’s longest hitters, which is often the perfect recipe for a successful Four-Ball team. However, it was perhaps the duo’s strategy that won them the tournament. “This was the first time that I wasn’t the one hitting last,” said Bittick. “I hit a lot of three-woods and rescue clubs off the tee and did a nice job keeping the ball in play.” This allowed Rudolph to be the aggressor on the challenging layout at The Farms.
While this is the first time Bittick and Rudolph have teamed up in an SCGA event, their history competing against each other in a four-ball format goes back 25 years. In 1985, Bittick and Bob May (the best in the OC) competed against Rudolph and Phil Mickelson (the best in San Diego) in the Hogan Cup. After all those years, the two were finally able to share the podium and enjoy their victory at The Farms. “Golf is just for fun now,” said Bittick. “To be able to call up Harry and go play together – and win – is really great.”
“Winning is everything, and to do it by knocking off the defending champions makes it even sweeter,” said Rudolph. “This was a good end to a good year.”
By Jeff Ninnemann
SCGA Assistant Director, Rules and Competitions
Prior to every SCGA championship, the staff member in charge meets with the host facility to cover all the details of the upcoming event and surveys the course to determine things like Local Rules, hole locations and tee setup. On this day, I was scouting the The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, home of the 2010 SCGA Four-Ball Championship Nov. 8-9. This would be an inspection I’ll never forget…
While driving down the fourth fairway, I caught a brief glimpse of the nearby 15th hole, where a sharply dressed left-hander was playing his approach shot from a much shorter distance than I’d guess the average member of The Farms has in. By the time I reached the seventh fairway, this group was now in position to play the difficult 16th--a 220-yard par 3 over water. As I watched from more than 300 yards away, the practice swing was unmistakable and the result…3 feet for birdie. Yes, it was Phil Mickelson.
Once he completed his round, I approached Phil, introduced myself, and told him about our upcoming Four-Ball Championship. He graciously complied to offer his thoughts on The Farms and some suggestions for the players.
First and foremost, Phil reiterated what a fun golf course The Farms is and how it will serve as a terrific venue for our event. However, he made it clear that players will need their A-game off the tee.
“The Farms is one of the most demanding courses off the tee in Southern California," he noted. "When I’m preparing for a major tournament (like the U.S. Open) and really want to test my driver, I come to The Farms.”
I also asked Phil to comment on some of the pivotal holes for the upcoming championship--Holes 3, 6 and 11. Phil fully endorsed making the third hole easily reachable for at least one of the rounds, but noted that “Hole 3 is such a demanding hole, no matter where you put the tees.”
Hole 6 also presents some creative setup opportunities. When asked about shortening Hole 6 and attempting to drive the green, even Phil admitted, “There’s a lot of risk on Hole 6, and hitting driver brings it all into play!”
Lastly, when I asked his opinion on shortening Hole 11 for one of the rounds, he calmly replied, “There’s no need to move those tees up--the big hitters can cut the corner and get there from the tips.”
Let’s be honest…Phil hits it a long ways.
The SCGA Four-Ball Championship tees off on Monday, when the team of multiple SCGA champion Kevin Marsh of Henderson, Nev. and George Downing of Santa Barbara will attempt to defend their title.
Hole by hole scoring and pairings are available here.