July 13, 2014
Following a poor drive on the par-4 16th, Bob Bucey went over to his son Bobby and reminded him, “All it takes is one great shot.”
Later, Bobby, a former standout at Chico State, would put his father’s words into action.
Bucey hit a perfect 7-iron draw into the middle of the green on the second hole of a sudden death playoff (No.2) that rolled to within two feet of the pin for birdie, clinching a win over Brandon Wu and the title in Sunday’s finale of the annual NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship at par-71 Poppy Hills Golf Course.
The 25-year-old Bucey finished the three-day, 54-hole event with a score of 6-over 219.
“It’s feels amazing. It’s surreal,” a smiling Bucey said. “With the course playing so tough, it felt like a mini major, like a British Open.”
While the firm and fast conditions of the new Poppy Hills were already a factor, in the final round things got even more intense due to a crowded leaderboard.
After some late lead exchanges, Bucey arrived at the 18th tee at 6-over, with Jeremy Sanchez already in the clubhouse at 7-over and Wu, who was in the final threesome with Bucey, at 7-over. On the 18th, Bucey missed his birdie putt to win the title outright and had to settle for par. Wu, meanwhile, also had an opportunity to win the title when he reached the green in two. Wu missed his eagle try, but made birdie to force extra holes.
At the time, Wu had no idea where everyone stood. Bucey, meanwhile, knew the championship was on the line. Both finished with final rounds of 74.
“I rolled my putt right on my line but it slipped at the end,” said Wu, who attends Deerfield School in Massachusetts. “I had no idea that I had a chance to win it. Bobby must have known, because when we were done he told me we were going to a playoff.”
On the first hole of sudden death (the tough par-4 1st), both players missed the green with their second shots. Bucey had a chance to win it with a 3 foot putt for par, but his ball somehow stayed out of the cup.
“I wasn’t very happy when I missed that,” Bucey said. “I thought I had it.”
Bucey made up for it with his perfectly struck shot on the 2nd to a flagstick that was just over the greenside bunker towards the left. Earlier in the round, he’d played the same shot but got a different bounce, leading to a bogey.
“I wanted to play it off the right slope. The first time it didn’t work out, When I saw it hit that second time, I knew it was going to end up close,” Bucey said.
Wu’s tee shot had landed towards the top ridge of the green. His difficult downhill birdie try ran 10 feet past the cup. He’d miss his par putt as well.
“I just hit my first putt a little too hard,” said Wu, who was making his championship debut. “I thought I had a good chance of getting it close.”
Following his win, Bucey immediately shared a hug, and some tears, with his dad. Bob had caddied for Bobby each day of the championship.
“I just give him the yardage and let him do his thing,” the elder Bucey said.
For Bobby, it meant a whole lot more than that.
“He’s been out there a bunch of times for me. It’s so special,” said Bobby, who works as a CPA for a firm in Walnut Creek. “That hug felt like my first hole-in-one. He was there for that too, and we exchanged a big bear hug.”
Sanchez, who established a course record with a 71 from the Jones Trail tees in Saturday’s second round, also had his chances. The Chabot College sophomore got to 7-over with a birdie on the 17th, but had to settle for a par on the 18th and a round of 75 after his 10-foot birdie attempt lipped out.
But that wasn’t the missed shot that Sanchez lamented. On the par-5 4th, he had tried to go for the green in two but pushed his shot right into the forest, leading to a double-bogey.
“I birdied that hole on Saturday. That second shot is the one I’d most like to have back. But I still had a great experience,” Sanchez said. “I feel good about it all.”
Finishing in fourth place at 222 after a final round 75 was Ben Corfee. Corfee, who plays at UC Davis, had got to 4-over with a birdie on the 9th and was still in the hunt at 5-over through his 14th hole. He’d play his last four holes at 4-over due to a double-bogey on the 16th.
Matthew Seramin, who also played for the Aggies, this past season, placed fifth at 223 after a 75.
Again using a combination of tees, the third round scoring average was 77.409. Over the three rounds, the new Poppy Hills played to a stroke average of 79.703.
July 12, 2014
The Jones Trail tees stretched the new Poppy Hills Golf Course to a robust 7,002 yards, but it was the firm and fast greens and fairways that again left players scrambling to make par.
On a Saturday where the leaderboard tossed into a blender, a quartet of players–Bobby Bucey, Jeremy Sanchez, Michael Tolladay and Brandon Wu–emerged on top with matching scores of 3-over 145 after the second round of the annual NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship at par-71 Poppy Hills.
The big mover of the group was Sanchez. The former Hillsdale High (San Mateo) standout, who now plays at Chabot College, posted an even par 71 that included a hole-in-one on the 223-yard 15th hole and established a course record on the revamped layout. The original Poppy Hills record was 62, set by Matt Gogel during the 2001 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
On his ace, Sanchez had considered using a 5-iron. Due to wind, his caddie suggested he hit 4-iron. He went with the 4-iron, and after landing just short of the green, his ball rolled in. “I just hit a big draw,” Sanchez said.
It was the only easy part of his round. Starting on the front-nine, Sanchez wouldn’t card his first par until the par-3 11th. Prior to that, it was a mix of five bogeys, a double-bogey on the 5th and four birdies. On the front, he hit only two greens in regulation.
Following his par on No.11, he’d go 3-under with the ace and a birdie on the 16th. On the back, he hit eight greens in regulation.
“On the back, I just gave myself chances and made the putts,” said Sanchez, who had four putts of over 10 feet fall after making the turn.
Both Bucey, a former star at Chico State, and Tolladay had 3-over 74’s, while Wu shot 75.
“It’s hard to make birdies out there,” said Bucey, who managed to bag just one after he reached the 18th green in two using a hybrid. “You have to be very confident with driver. I left myself in good spots to get up and down. I just couldn’t get any putts to fall.”
He wasn’t the only one.
First round leader and nearby Stevenson School product Skyler Finnell, who had opened with a 69, shot 78 to fall into a tie for sixth, two behind the leaders at 147. Cody Riecks, a freshman-to-be at Fresno State, went from 70 to 80.
Hayden Shieh, who was runner-up at this year’s NCGA Public Links Championship on a tough Bayonet Golf Course, hung in there with a 74 that included an eagle on the par-5 9th. He’ll enter the final round alone in fifth place, just a stroke behind the leaders.
Other players making charges up the leaderboard and putting themselves in immediate contention were Ben Corfee, Chris Whalen and Stevenson School senior Sunny Yan, who all posted rounds of 72.
Corfee, who plays at UC Davis, started out on the wrong foot with a double-bogey on No.2. He’d rebound with three birdies on his next five holes and played his last 11 holes at just 2-over.
“The greens are really undulated and firm,” said Corfee, who picked up on many of the course’s nuances during Friday’s first round, his trip around the new Poppy Hills. “Having played the course helped. You figured out where you wanted to be and where you didn’t want to be.”
The 28-year-old Whalen, who works at Santa Teresa GC, was the epitome of steady, carding an eagle with just three bogeys to get to 149.
“The Jones Trail tees made the course longer, but I didn’t think they were that big of a factor,” Whalen said. “The course doesn’t play that long because you get so much roll in the fairways.”
Nine players are at 150 including CSU-Monterey Bay standout Robby Salomon (78), NCGA Four-Ball champion Danny Paniccia (78), recent California State Amateur medalist Jason Anthony (74) and Chase Dossa, who shot 73.
A sophomore at Sonoma State, Dossa was helped along by a red-hot putter. On No.3, the 10th and 18th, Dossa carded birdies by draining putts of 25-feet or more. On No. 2, he’d chip in from from 10 yards out for birdie.
“On No.2, I was surprised. I was above the pin and just wanted to get it underneath the hole,” Dossa said.
Overall 18, players are within six shots of the lead. The way things are going, all will have a shot at the title.
Playing from a combination of tees ranging from the Jones Trail to the Two Poppies, the first round scoring average was 79.452. The scoring average from Saturday, using only the Jones Trail tees, was 80.764.
The cutline (low 40 and ties) came at 13-over 155. Sunday’s final round is expected to begin at 7:30 a.m.
July 11, 2014
The new Poppy Hills Golf Course returned just as advertised, firm and fast, and instantly proved to be a test of mettle.
Skyler Finnell, a product of neighbor Stevenson School, jumped to the top of the leaderboard in the annual NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship on Friday, carding a steady first round 2-under 69 on the reinvigorated par-71 layout. Cody Riecks and Brandon Wu sit tied for second at 70, just a stroke behind.
The three were the only players to break par despite the course playing at a modest 6,675 yards thanks to a combination tees ranging from the 7,002 Jones Trail to the 5,799 Two Poppies.
Having played at Stevenson, Finnell, who will be a junior at University of San Diego this fall, was more than familiar with the old Poppy Hills. A practice round on Thursday was his first trip around the new track, which re-opened to the public in April.
“I played in the afternoon (Thursday) and it was blowing real hard,” Finnell said. “It’s doable in the morning when it’s not blowing as hard, but in the afternoon it gets tough.”
One of those teeing off as part of the morning wave and starting on the easier more forgiving back-nine, Finnell got going with birdies on the 14th and 18th. The former No.14 ranked California junior for the 2012 class later added another birdie on the tough par-4 1st. He’d slip back to even with bogeys on holes No.2 through No.4, but closed out his round with an eagle on the par-5 9th despite his drive finding one of the fairway bunkers. He’d hit a hybrid that caught the slope to the right side of the green which fed his ball to within 4 feet of the flagstick.
“That slope on the right side is great,” Finnell said. “I hit some shots off that slope yesterday. You have a lot of bailout room.”
Riecks, a freshman-to-be at Fresno State, also went 2-under on the back-nine to open his round, carding back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th. The Youth on Course product later bogeyed No.3 and No.4, but bounced back with birdies on No.5 and No.7 sandwiched between another bogey on the 6th.
Starting on the front-nine, Wu bogeyed the 1st and 3rd holes. Coming off a 9th place finish at the recent NCGA Junior Championship, Wu made up for the miscues with a birdie on No.2 and stellar back-to-back birdies on No.4 and No.5. He’d play the back-nine at even par with a bogey on the 14th and a birdie on the 15th.
Three players–JT Harper, Bobby Bucey and Michael Tolladay–are just two off the lead after rounds of 71.
Harper, a former star at nearby Pacific Grove High who played for Seton Hall this past season, had four birdies and four bogeys. Tolladay, a former prep star in Fresno who now plays at University of Pacific, was even steadier, penciling in two birdies with two bogeys. A former standout at Chico State, Bucey had a birdie and eagle on No.9 to go with three bogeys.
A group of four players, including NCGA Four-Ball champion Danny Paniccia and Robby Salomon of CSU-Monterey Bay, are three back after opening rounds of 72. Paniccia, a former winner of the NCGA Valley Amateur, had the shot of the day, carding a hole-in-one on the 200-yard 15th using a 5-iron. Prior to the ace, Paniccia had gone 3-over through his first five holes.
“I normally hit my 5-iron 185 yards but you can’t fly it to the hole here,” Paniccia said. “I decided to land it short and it bounced in. It hit the pin hard. We could hear it hit from the tee.”
Other than the par-5 4th, the first five holes on the front-nine could have been called the Sasquatch Trail. Holes No.1 through No.3 were beasts, playing as the No.1, through No.3 most difficult holes of the day, respectively. The 416-yard par-4 1st played to a stroke average of 5.119. After getting a breather on No.4 (11th most difficult), players faced the 478-yard par-4 5th, which played as the 4th hardest hole.
Things will get even more interesting come Saturday’s second round. All 18 holes will play from the Jones Trail, stretching the course to its maximum of 7,002 yards.
Saturday’s second round will tee off at 7:30 a.m., with players again going off the 1st and 10th tees. Following play, a cut will be made with the low 40 and ties advancing to Sunday’s final round.
July 5, 2014
There are a pair of things that are certain come Friday’s first round of this year’s NCGA Stroke Play Championship.
One, the event will have a new champion. Two, the championship will have an entirely new look.
With his victory last year, Arbuckle resident Ben Geyer achieved something that hadn’t been done in the modern era of the NCGA Stroke Play Chhampionship. The then-21-year became the first player to go back-to-back, winning the 2013 title by nine strokes with a 54-hole total of 11-under 205 at Bayonet Golf Course in Seaside.
But he won’t make it three in a row.
That’s because Geyer, the NCGA Player of the Year in both 2012 and 2013, has since not only turned professional but won as a pro. He’d post a final round 4-under 67 to win the inaugural eGolf Tour West’s Arrowood Open by four strokes back in early March.
While Geyer is missing, the championship still boasts a ton of talent.
Among those slated to tee off in the three-day, 54-hole event include 2014 NCGA Public Links champ Austin Roberts, Fairfield resident Jason Anthony and Trevor Clayton.
Along with his win at the NCGA Public Links, Roberts finished T-4 at the annual Alameda Commuters Championship.
Anthony, meanwhile, will enter the event holding the No.1 spot in the NCGA Player of the Year points standings. Along with winning the Fresno City Am, Anthony finished T-2 at the Alameda Commuters. He also is coming off a Round of 16 run at the California State Amateur, where he was medalist.
Clayton also reached the Round of 16 at the State Am, and won the Roseville City Amateur.
But there’s a ton of more names to watch for, including 4-time NCGA Player of the Year Casey Boyns, 6-time NCGA POY Randy Haag, defending NCGA Four-Ball co-winner Mike Stieler and 2013 Public Links champ Nick Moore.
As for the venue, following a one-year stop at Bayonet GC due to the renovation, the championship returns home to the new Poppy Hills.
A Poppy Hills course that is sure to test the players. For at least Friday’s first round, a combination of tees (ranging from the 7,002 yard Jones Trail to the 5,799 yard Two Poppies) will be used for competition.
Following Saturday’s second round, a cut will be made with the low 40 and ties advancing to Sunday’s final round.
Along with Geyer, other former winners of the event include Ken Venturi (1951, 1952), Ernie Pieper Jr. (1961) and Johnny Miller (1964).
Following the 1966 championship, the event was not held. It was resurrected in 2004.