April 12, 2015
San Jose resident Justin Suh and Danville’s Sara Banke picked up momentous victories at the annual San Francisco City Championships.
Suh, the No.4 seed, defeated Thomas Hutchison, 9 and 8, and Banke, the No.14 seed, knocked off Anna Zhou, 6 and 4, to win the Men’s and Women’s Championships, respectively, in Sunday’s 36-hole finales at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
For both Suh and Banke, the wins could be the start of bigger things to come later in year. The victories also hit close to home.
Suh, a 17-year-old senior at Evergreen Valley who’s headed to USC in the fall, took a 6-up lead in the morning portion and never looked back.
By the time the 2013 Junior Tour of Northern California Player of the Year and winner of last year’s CIF State Individual Championship reached the tee on the 23rd hole, he’d built an 8-up lead.
Suh closed the match when both he and Hutchison halved pars on the 28th hole (No.10).
“This feels great,” said Suh, who joins the ranks of George Archer and Ken Venturi as winners of the event. “I only missed a couple of fairways and I barely missed any greens. I knew this was the last S.F. City I’d play, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”
The No.15 seeded Hutchison, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pioneer High who had earlier shaken up the brackets, simply couldn’t keep up.
“I just didn’t hit the ball as well as I’d like to,” said Hutchison, who had his sister Samantha on the bag as caddie. “I got into a lot of trouble. That and Justin played well.”
Each of the last five years, it was Suh who had come up short. Now he joins his sister Hannah, who now plays at Cal, as a champion. Hannah won the Women’s title in 2011 as a high school junior.
“I’ll call her. She always says, ‘Why do you have to win the tournaments that I’ve won?’” Suh said with a chuckle.
Before he heads off to USC, Suh will among other things defend his CIF State title and compete in this year’s California State Amateur Championship at nearby Lake Merced Golf Club.
“I’m excited. This is a big year for me, and this is a great start,” Suh said.
Like Suh, Banke also cruised to victory. The 23-year-old 2014 UC Irvine graduate took a 5-up lead in the morning and went on to take a 7-up lead after winning the 28th hole.
Zhou, a senior at Gunn High who lost to Casie Cathrea in last year’s finals, tried to keep things going with wins on the 30th and 31st holes, but Banke sealed the deal with a par on the 32nd hole.
“It’s just so cool to win this,” said Banke, whose name will be added to a list of champions that includes Juli Inkster and Pat Cornett. “There are so many great players who have won here.”
For Banke, the win also could kick start a big year. This August, the 2014 California Women’s Championship winner plans on taking a stab at LPGA Q-School.
“I feel like I’m having a breakthrough now,” Banke said. “I’m practicing more how I feel a pro would. I want to be ready,”
Zhou, who’s headed to Harvard in the fall, was never able to recover from the early deficit.
“The first 18 was really disappointing,” said Zhou, also a member of the JTNC. “I left a lot of shots out there.”
Making the win extra special for Banke was having her father, Dana, on the bag as caddie. Dana, the head pro at Poplar Creek GC, played in the S.F. City back in the 1970’s. While he didn’t win then, he got to taste victory as a father.
“I really wanted to win this for my dad. Now we just have to figure out where to go to celebrate,” Banke said with a smile.
In Saturday’s semifinals, Banke knocked out No.7 seed and 2014 U.S. Women’s Open darling Lucy Li via a 1-up win. The age difference between the two—Li is still only 12– wasn’t lost on Banke.
“Yeah, it was odd. I could be her babysitter,” Banke said. “She’s very talented.”
In the Senior Championship, ex-Stanford player Gary Vanier again had the winning touch, defeating Jim Williams, 4 and 2, in the 18-hole finale.
For Vanier, it’s his third S.F. City Senior title (2009, 2013) and eighth overall crown. The 2006 NCGA Senior Player of the Year has also won the Men’s title five times.
In the Super Senior Championship, Joe Rogers defeated 2014 NCGA Super Senior Championship winner Herb Jensen, 4 and 3.