Clarke Wins SCGA Amateur Championship
Eighteen-year-old Doug Clarke of La Jolla became the youngest winner ever in the 78-year history of the SCGA Amateur Championship, as he knocked in a curling downhill 15-foot pressure-packed putt on the 72nd hole to avoid a fourway sudden-death playoff with Brett Mullin, Curtis Worley and Scott Simpson.
Clarke, who was the 1976 Trans-Miss champion and runner-up in the 1976 Junior World and USGA Junior Championship, birdied three of the last four holes in posting a final round 71 and a 72-hole score of 287, one-under-par at La Jolla Country Club's demanding 6,644-yard par-72 layout, which is characterized by deep ravines and lightning fast greens.
At the beginning of the final round, Worley trailed second and third round leader Lester Hayashi by one shot, while Clarke and Mullin were three shots behind; two-time NCAA Champion Scott Simpson from USC was four back. However, Hayashi's fondness for the trees and shaky putter, helped him balloon to a final round 80, five shots behind the winner.
By the third hole of the final round, where Mullin birdied from 30 feet and Worley bogeyed from off the green, Mullin, Worley and Clarke (who birdied the first hole), were all tied for the lead. Mullin took the lead briefly by himself when he birdied the 5th hole from five feet, but slipped back into a tie when he bogeyed the 7th hole. Another bogey at the 8th hole, caused him to slip one stroke behind Clarke and two behind Worley, who birdied the 8th from five feet. At the turn, Worley was two strokes ahead of both Clarke and Mullin, and four ahead of Simpson.
Worley, the 1974 CGA champion whose drives hover around the 300-yard mark, continued his steady play and held his two-shot lead until he double bogeyed the 455-yard 13th. Worley continued to hold a slim one-shot lead, as Mullin bogeyed the 12th and Clarke bogeyed the 13th. All three players pulled even on the 15th, where both Mullin and Clarke birdied the short par-5; Worley managed only a par. Clarke took over the lead briefly at the 189-yard par-3 16th, where he birdied from five feet to go one ahead of Worley, Mullin and Simpson, who seemed to come from nowhere (as he usually does) with three consecutive birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes. At the 522-yard par-5 17th, Simpson and Worley had pars, but Mullin and Clarke bogeyed, the latter lipping out from only three feet. Mullin, playing with Worley ahead of Clarke and Simpson, birdied the 18th to pull himself back into a tie for the lead as Clarke and Simpson stood at the 18th tee.
Playing it safe and trying to forget the nightmare of missing a three-foot putt on the previous hole, Clarke teed off with a one iron, but still had a long uphill five-iron from the right side of the fairway to the green. Simpson hit his tee shot into the rough on the left and had a difficult sidehill lie. Both hit good second shots and were left with putts of about 15 feet. Simpson was away and had a chance to put the pressure on Clarke with a birdie, but his ball slipped three feet past the hole. Clarke smoothed in his miraculous birdie (which seemed to hang on the lip for five seconds) to wrap up the tournament. Simpson, Mullin and Worley all tied at even par 288. In a matching of scorecards. Mullin was second, Worley third and Simpson fourth. Fifty-four-year-old Ted Richards, two-time SCGA champion and 16-time Bel-air club champion, was fifth for the second straight year with identical score of 292 which he had in 1976.
Clarke, who started golf at age 10, and is headed for Stanford this fall on a full golf scholarship to hopefully follow in the footsteps of Tom Watson, said he wasn't worried that he had blown the tournament by lipping out the three-footer on the 17th hole. "I figured that if I made a par at No. 18, I'd be in a playoff. This finish reminded me of what Watson did to Nicklaus at the Masters this year," said the hometown favorite with a smile.
More than 1,050 golfers in four flights qualified at 10 different Southern California sites to gain entry into the finals at La Jolla Country Club July 22-24.
Next year's SCGA Amateur Championship regional qualifying will be held July 17-18 with the final rounds scheduled for July 21-23 at Bel-Air Country Club.