Welcome Home, Kevin Marsh
The distance between Santa Maria CC and Saticoy CC is not all that far as the crow flies. For Kevin Marsh, however, the 12 years between his first SCGTA Amateur Championsip victory at Santa Maria and this year's title at Saticoy have been full of twists and turns.
Now the La Cumbre CC member is back home, so to speak, having held off 2004 SCGA Amateur champion Tim Hogarth to win the 2008 SCGA Amateur by two shots.
In what became a two-man battle of former national champions, the 35-year-old Marsh — the 2005 U.S. Mid-Amateur winner — shot 3-over-par 75 in the final round and finished at 3-under-par 285 for 72 holes over the challenging 6,872-yard Saticoy layout, originally designed by William Francis Bell and remodeled a few years ago by John Harbottle III.
the 40-year-old Hogarth — the 1996 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion — got off to an awful start in the final round with three bogeys and a double bogey in his first five holes, leading to a front-nine 41, but fought back to post a 3-under-par 33 on the back nine. He finished with a final round of 2-over-par 74, and at 287 was the only other golfer under par for the championship.
UC Davis sophomore Austin Graham of San Clemente, the first-round leader after a 68, finished in third place at 289, 1-over-par, two shots in front of John Pate of Santa Barbara and Spencer Anderson of Pacific Palisades.
Marsh, who lives in Henderson, NV where he is a commercial real estate developer, became the 20th player to win two or more SCGA Amateur titles, and the 12-year-span between titles is the second longest in SCGA Amateur history (Bruce McCormick went 15 years between his second and third SCGA Amateur titles, 1948 and 1963). Marsh's win follows his runner-up finish in this year's SCGA Mid-Amateur, when he finished a stoke behind Jeff Wilson at Toscana CC.
Marsh's win at Saticoy was almost (to quote Yogi Berra's famous aphorism) "deja vu all over again." When he won in 1996 at Santa Maria CC, Marsh let a six-shot lead evaporate over the last five holes and had to win the title in a playoff over pat Duncan. "Fortunately," said Marsh after his victory at Saticoy, "I didn't even think about that coming down the stretch today." "I was a little bit nervous all day because it's been a long time since I've won a major stoke-play event, so this was important for my psyche."
Things might have been different had Hogarth not imploded at the beginning. " My putter is always the thing that holds me back," said Hogarth afterwards. "When it goes south, it really goes south; today I three-putted four holes at the beginning. But I couldn't just lay down; I've got too much pride to simply throw in the towel."
He didn't. Instead, it was Marsh who struggled and kept Hogarth and Graham in the tournament. Marsh made three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine, and blew his tee shot on the 144-yard, downhill 10th hole over the green, which led to a double-bogey 5. When Hogarth stuck his tee shot on the 10th hole to within two feet of the flagstick and sank the putt, it was game on.
Marsh bogeyed the 11th hole after plugging his approach in a bunker, which trimmed the lead to two shots. After Marsh and Hogarth both got up an down from the same greenside bunker for birdie 4s on the 14th hole, Marsh drove into the trees on the 15th hole, was forced to chip out into the fairway and ended up making bogey. Meanwhile, Hogarth laced his approach shot on No. 15 to within eight feet but missed the birdie putt ("a dead pull; it never had a chance," he would say later). Although he would wedge to eight feet on the 16th hole and sink the birdie putt, he was still a shot back.
However, on the 478-yard 17th hole Marsh, in his words, "nuked" a 143-yard 9-iron to within eight feet of the hole and rolled in the curling putt to stretch the lead to two shots heading to the 522-yard par-5 finishing hole.
Marsh played safe, pulling his second shot well to the left of the green, "I knew I had plenty of green to work with and figured par would get the job done," said Marsh afterwards.
Hogarth then threw a monkey wrench into that strategy when he hammered a 250-yard, 3-wood bomb over trees that reached the green, 25 feet away from an eagle. "It was one of the best shots I've ever had under pressure," said Hogarth later. When he charged the eagle putt eight feet past the hole, Marsh breathed a sigh of relief. "If he had made the eagle putt," Marsh said later, "I would have had to work a lot harder on my birdie putt." Both players settle for par 5.
Marsh nearly led wire-to-wire but not quite, as Graham shot a 4-under-par 68 to take the lead after the first of two rounds on "marathon Friday." Marsh, who shot 71 on his opening round, came back with a 69 and his 140 total, 4-under-par, gave him a four-shot lead heading into Saturday's third round. Graham slipped to a 76 and was tied for second at the midway point of the tournament.
Marsh posted four birdies and three bogeys in the morning round and was 2-under-par for the first nine holes of his afternoon round. "I putted really well all day," said Marsh after his second round. "I made a lot of putts this morning."
Marsh's final nine holes Friday (Saticoy's front side) were an "E" ticket ride. He went bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey on his first four holes, then reeled off three straight birdies before making a miraculous save on the par-5 eighth hole when he drove into the trees, punched out into the fairway and then got up and down from 250 yards for par. He then two-putted for par 3 on the ninth hole ("my only 'normal' hole on the nine," he would say later).
Hogarth, whose long list of credits include winning the 1999 California Amateur Championship, opened with a 2-under-par 70 but struggled to a 74 in the afternoon, "To say it wasn't a typical round for me would be an understatement." said Hogarth, who made nine birdies (including his final two holes in the afternoon) but shot only even par.
Marsh led Hogarth and Graham by three shots after shooting 70 in the third round, and it was essentially a three-man race with a gap of five shots back to three golfers including Brian Edick, who was hoping to break his string of three consecutive runner-up finishes in the Amateur (he did, but not in the way he wanted, closing with a 76 to tie for seventh).
The 18-year-old Graham, who finished sixth at this summer's Long Beach City championship, was 1-over-par through 12 holes on Saturday but birdied four of his final six holes, including three in a row to move back into contention. Meanwhile, Hogarth was back on his normal game (three-time SCGA Amateur champion Scott McGihon called it "Timmie time"), posting three birdies and 15 pars for a 3-under-par 69 a total of 213 for 54 holes, 3-under-par. "This was more like my game and far less stressful," said Hogarth after the third round.