PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — After a three-year drought, Robby Salomon is back in the winner’s circle.
Salomon, a 26-year-old senior at CSU-Monterey Bay, avoided disaster for a third straight day, carding a final round 3-under 68 Sunday at par-71 Poppy Hills Golf Course to win the annual NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship by five shots over runner-up Patrick Soli of San Carlos.
For Salomon, it was a testament to patience and determination. Having gone through swing changes, the last time he’d tasted victory was at the 2012 Marin County Amateur.
“It’s a relief,” said Salomon, who finished the three-day, 54-hole event at 4-under 209. “It’s a lot of frustration overcome. It feels really good.”Having entered the finale one shot behind Jason Anthony, Salomon made his big move on the 8th and 9th holes. It was on the par-4 8th that Anthony finally slipped as well.
Trailing Anthony by two through the first seven holes, on the pivotal 8th Salomon got back to even-par by sinking a 40-footer for birdie.Anthony, meanwhile, literally got stuck in the greenside bunker. After three attempts, the Fairfield resident got out, but it would lead to a triple-bogey. In less than 15 minutes, the leaderboard flipped, with Salomon suddenly holding a two-stroke lead over Anthony and a one shot lead over Pleasanton’s Ryan Knop, who began the day two behind Anthony.
“I didn’t expect my putt to fall in,” Salomon said “When it did, I sensed momentum changing.”
On the ensuing par-5 9th, Salomon upped the ante by hitting a perfect 3-wood that hit the mound on the right and funneled his ball to within 10 feet of the flagstick. He’s make the putt for eagle, while both Anthony and Knop had to settle for pars.
Just like that, Salomon’s lead had grown to three over Knop and four over Anthony.
“That eagle putt fell in on the last roll,” Salomon said. “I thought it was going to be short.”
At the start of the round, it didn’t look like Salomon’s putter was ever going to cooperate. He had three lip-outs on the first three holes, leading to a quick 2-over start.
“All three of those lip-outs were good putts. They just didn’t go in,” Salomon said. “It wasn’t the start I wanted, but I knew I still had the par-5 4th, which I play well, and three other par-5’s to go. I told myself not to panic.”
Prior to his charge on the 8th and 9th, Salomon got some hints that the tide was turning. On No.4 he’d make a great up-and-down from the bunker after sinking a 25-footer for par. Later on the 6th, he had a horrible lie in the tough greenside bunker on the right but somehow salvaged a bogey.
“Both of those holes could’ve been a lot worse,” Salomon said.
After making the turn, Salomon’s lead only grew when Knop made a big mistake, hitting his second shot into the pond for an eventual double-bogey.
With both Knop, who’s headed to UC Davis in the fall, and Anthony struggling to a 77 and 76, respectively, Salomon’s biggest pursuers became Soli and St. Mary’s senior Jonathan De Los Reyes.
Soli crept into the picture after playing his final seven holes at 4-under for a 70 to come in at 214. The UC Davis senior had a chance to make Salomon sweat late but had to settle for a par on the par-5 18th.
Earlier in the round, Soli had his own miscue, carding a double-bogey on the 9th after he chunked his wedge shot from 95 yards out.
“I thought that something in the 60’s would have a chance,” said Soli, who came up just short of his goal. “It was still a good week.”
De Los Reyes, who began the day nine shots behind Salomon, charged up the leaderboard to a third place finish at 215 after carding a course record 6-under 65 with the course playing at 6,716 yards.
Salomon, who only began playing competitive golf four years ago after switching over from baseball, would squash both Soli and De Los Reyes’ attempts at a comeback by making back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. On the 18th, he’d seal the deal with a final great up-and-down, banking his third shot from the waste area off the edge of the green to within 7 feet of the pin for another birdie.
Over his 54 holes, Salomon never made anything worse than bogey. He’d card just nine bogeys.
“That’s the key on this course. You know you’re going to make bogeys out here. When you do have a bad hole, you have to limit the damage,” Salomon said.
Helping Salomon navigate the course was 2015 NCGA Public Links Championship winner Nick Moore. The two met in 2012 when they paired up in the annual Hanna-Wehrman Cup.
Following Salomon’s early struggles, Moore reminded him to hang in there.
“On No.6, I told him to just keep hitting greens and let the other guys mess up,” Moore said.Over his three rounds, Anthony, who led after both the first and second round, had only six bogeys. The blow up hole on the 8th, however, changed everything.
“I chose the wrong club for my approach and just could not get out of that bunker,” Anthony said. “Realistically, I could’ve played well and Robby still might have won it. He earned it. It was a pleasure to watch him.”
Once recruited to play baseball at University of San Francisco, Salomon got burned out on that sport and transitioned to golf because he felt he had a “natural ability.”
The Preserve GC member has had help along the way from Palo Alto GC Director of Instruction Kevin Lozares.
“Kevin has helped me a ton the last four years,” Salomon. “He’s been there for me for the physical and mental aspects of the game.”Poppy Hills played to a 76.955 stroke average for the final round. Overall, the new course played to a stroke average of 78.900.
Salomon’s 209 total was 10 shots lower than 2014 champion Bobby Bucey’s winning total of 219.