PEBBLE BEACH, CA (August 19, 2016) -- In a span of over a century, only 10 players had ever won the California Amateur Championship and the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship in the same year.
San Jose resident Shintaro Ban is the latest to join the list.
The No. 2 seeded UNLV junior came scorching out of the gates and never let up, defeating Bellarmine High senior Eddy Lai, 10 and 9, in Friday’s 36-hole finale at Spyglass Hill. The list of players who’ve bagged both titles in one year includes Jack Neville (1913), Charles Seaver (1933), Michael Brannan (1976) and, most recently, PGA Tour member Spencer Levin (2004).
“It’s unreal. It means a lot,” said Ban, who commuted from his home to Spyglass Hill every day, leaving as early as 4 a.m. “I didn’t expect myself to win.”
In two of his tuneups for the championship–the Pacific Coast Amateur and Trans-Mississippi–Ban didn’t crack the top 20 in the final standings.
“It was a tough stretch. I just kept practicing hard,” Ban said. “As the week progressed here, I felt like I was more and more finding my game.”
He was certainly firing on all cylinders at the end. Through the first 13 holes of the morning portion, the 20-year-old went 6-under. After four straight birdies on holes No.10 through No.13, his lead quickly grew to 6-up. In the final nine holes of the afternoon, Ban went 1-under. Lai, the No.1 seed, wasn’t completely off his game, either. The fellow San Jose resident, who at age 17 was aiming to become the youngest champion ever, played his morning round at 2-over.
“I was just trying to stay within myself,” said Lai of the early onslaught. “I wasn’t executing my shots and he was just on fire. I’ll look back later and see how he played the course differently. It’s disappointing, but I’m proud of the way I played all week. I’ll take this and move on.”
Something had to give. Entering the finale, Lai had never trailed in his previous three matches. Ban came in having never trailed in his quarterfinals and semifinals wins.
The two have been close friends for years, having previously competed together on the Junior Tour of Northern California. Following stroke play qualifying, and after seeing they were in opposite brackets, the two joked about meeting in the final.
“It’s tough. We were trying to have fun, but in the end we also knew that only one of us was going to win,” Ban said.
Playing in his last event of the summer, Ban only trailed on three holes total over the five match play rounds. When he did have a slip, and even when he going good, there to help him was his caddie, friend Sissy Nichols.
“Sissy keeps me in it. Half the credit has to go to her,” Ban said. “She keeps me positive.”