NCGA Stroke Play: Justesen Makes Mark with Victory

PEBBLE BEACH - Erick Justesen caught a really big fish on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Cal State Stanislaus junior-to-be made a huge splash in capturing the NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Poppy Hills while being paired with two veteran competitors, Randy Haag and Scott Hardy. All three players began Sunday’s final round in a tie at two-under-par for the championship. But the eClub Sacramento member hung on, making two double bogeys on back 9 par 3s (#11 and #14) against four birdies -- the last a chip-in on the final par 3, the 17th hole -- that effectively sealed the championship, allowing the champion a two-shot cushion he would need on the final hole. (Justesen is the first NCGA eClub member to capture an NCGA title.)

As the final round began, most observers would have bet on Haag, a two-time NCGA Player of the Year, or Hardy, 2004 champion of this event and a player seeking an NCGA major title for the third year in a row. “It was awesome to play with these guys,” Justesen said, “but I try not to be in awe. I think I can hang with anybody. I’ve been scoring well so I felt comfortable being the underdog.” That was clear from the start as the champion recovered from an opening bogey to rattle off eight straight pars. The up-and-down, even-par back nine was testament to the Pebble Beach caddie’s faith, or lack thereof, in all aspects of his game: “My short game was solid but I have been fighting my full swing. I just don’t trust it.” Still, the final round 73 was good for a cumulative one-under-par score of 215.

Justesen has had moderate success the past few years, winning his conference championship as a student at Cal State Monterey Bay, posting a second-place finish at the 2006 Memorial Amateur and making it to the second round of match play at this year’s State Amateur, but the gravity of adding his name to a trophy with the likes of Johnny Miller and Ken Venturi was not lost on the champion. “This is awesome,” he said, beaming.

Runner-up Randy Haag closed two very successful weeks of competition with the Stroke Play Championship; unfortunately he was unable to win any of the three events he entered. After third-place finishes in the NCGA Master Division and Monterey City Amateur championships last week, the Olympic Club member entered the final round with some confidence. “I haven’t won in a long time and this is a big one,” said Haag, whose glittering resume counts two NCGA Amateurs, two Master Division Championships, three Four-Ball Championships, and two San Joaquin Valley Championships. “But I didn’t get any bounces and couldn’t make any putts.” Indeed, the runner-up’s ball striking was exceptional but his short game was not at the same level. “I thought I’d win something with the scores I shot, but the course played tough today. I had to putt defensively.” Haag’s birdie on the final hole closed the gap to one shot.

La Rinconada’s Matt Marshall catapulted into third place, his final-round 67 by far the tournament’s low round. John Enright of the Olympic Club shot a final round 68, which moved him up the leaderboard to 4th place, while defending champion Bob Niger of Serrano was unable to mount a charge in the final round and finished in 9th place, six strokes back.

* story courtesy NCGA *

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