by Randy Haag
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (March 7, 2010) -- On a day of high winds and tough course conditions, the San Francisco Men's City Championship final came down to a five footer on the 36th hole that would have extended the match to sudden-death. It seemed that everyone wanted to see Cory McElyea's third consecutive par putt on the last three holes go in, as these missed putts really ended up being the difference in a long, hard-fought match that saw the lead change five times. Both players at one time held 2-up advantages, but could never stretch their lead further.
The missed putts by McElyea were not easy at all under such extreme conditions. He had just played about 70 holes in just under 22 hours (back-to-back 36 hole days) and today, with the wind whipping at 25-35 mph, putting was even twice as difficult as normal.
What made this match so great to watch was the way it see-sawed back and forth. Going into the final nine holes Gandranata -- the 2009 NCGA Amateur Champion -- had a 1-up advantage until he lost 10, 11, and 12 to go 2-down (a tough deficit to overcome with only six holes to play). On the 13th hole Gandranata left himself a challenging second shot that required some serious skill. From about 185 yards out, he rifled a low, drawing 3 iron into the wind settling about 18 feet from the pin. McElyea, having an even tougher shot with over-hanging trees, also hit a quality shot 30 feet from the pin. After McElyea left his downhill birdie attempt short, Gandranata rolled in a beautiful right to left putt, again getting himself right back into the match.
The 14th hole was playing into a gale force wind, and with the tee at the back tips (about 485 yards away from the green) it seemed a par here would be a very good score. After a piped drive down the middle, Gandranata knew he couldn’t reach the green and left himself a 30 yard approach shot which he stuck a foot from the pin for a nice par. Meanwhile, McElyea short-sided himself in the left bunker and had to settle for a 20 foot par attempt that just missed going in.
The match was even.
The 15th hole again provided some drama with both approach shots missing the green, leaving Gandranata the tougher up and in. His chip left him an 8 foot downhill par putt, while McElyea almost holed his chip shot from short left of the green. Gandranata was not able to convert his par putt, letting McElyea once again gain the advantage at 1-up with three to go.
Unfortunately, they had a good 10 minute wait on the tee that I don’t think helped Cory’s momentum. With the tees up, McElyea chose a driver off the tee, which I’m not sure he’d hit again given another chance. His drive flared to the right leaving him in the column of trees on the right that so many of Harding Park's regulars, and even the world's best pros who recently played the President's Cup there, are intimately familiar. And these trees are ball-grabbers -- many balls that enter that area never return to the ground.
Meanwhile, Gandranata hit a perfectly placed tee shot down the left side, leaving a great angle to the pin. His approach from 95 yards missed the green wide right, leaving a tough up and in, while McElyea hit a magnificent shot under the trees that landed on the green and rolled over into the rough. After Gandranata chipped to 10 feet, McElyea squeezed a chip a foot or two closer. Gandranata, with great confidence, rolled his par putt into the middle of the cup, putting immense pressure back on McElyea. This is one of those situations where if you make the putt, you stay 1 up and probably win the match, or if you miss the putt, all the momentum switches and you will need to regroup quickly. Unfortunately, McElyea missed the putt and at that point he seemed to lose a little confidence in his putting. The conditions were extremely challenging as well with the wind gusting to over 35 mph.
Again, on the par three 17th the wind was howling and Gandranata opened the door for McElyea with a missed 4 iron into a half-buried lie in the right bunker. McElyea was unable to take advantage of the mistake and missed the green wide right. After McElyea chipped down to about 10 feet, Gandranata once again showed us all why he is not only the 2010 SF City Champion, but also the 2009 NCGA Amateur Champion. His shot from the buried lie rolled to gimmie range, leaving McElyea another HUGE putt to now stay even in the match. After setting up several times over his putt, he needed to back off as the wind was causing his ball to rock back and forth (not a penalty). After finally settling in his attempt slid low right and Gandranata once again had the lead in the match going to the final hole.
The 18th hole was playing down wind, giving the players many options to consider on this tough finishing hole. Gandranata, with the honor, took a safe line towards the fairway bunkers while McElyea blasted a monster drive down near Daly/Woods territory leaving approx 100 yards to the middle of the green. After Gandranata came off a 3 iron leaving himself about 60 yards to the pin, McElyea was again unable to take advantage of the mistake and missed the green right.
McElyea was left with a tricky short sided chip that he executed quite well. After Gandranata barely missed a 20 footer to win the match, his opponent now had a 5 footer to go to sudden death and swing the momentum back to himself perhaps.
While he missed the putt to extend the match, Cory McElyea, at age 18, showed some serious skills and displayed championship level play throughout the event. It’s extremely tough to win an event as medalist, everyone is gunning for you.
And finally before I mention a few last words about champion George Gandranata, I must make mention about the City Senior final that was contested between two very fine gentlemen that are friends of both the author and amateurgolf.com regulars. Herb Jensen outlasted Tony Wilmer competed in a match that I’m sure both of these great guys enjoyed very much- Congrats to both of you!!
Now one last comment about the 2010 City Champ. As those of you know that have read this blog (see link at bottom of story for more blog entries) when I mentioned George as my pick to win the event, it wasn’t because he beat me in the round of 16. It’s because he has the extra seasoning and maturing than a lot of these other fantastic young guns. George also beat me in last year’s NCGA amateur in the semi-finals on the 19th hole, which stung badly!!
George went on to defeat Casey Boyns in the final that was another close match. What George has displayed to me, is his ability to focus under extreme pressure. His pre-shot routine never changes, and he never makes decisions quickly without proper thought. Additionally, I can assure you his fine touch is a result of the work he puts into his short game. On the 8th hole today he badly missed his tee shot into the right bunker leaving a 25 yard bunker shot to a back left pin. George pulled a 9 iron and proceeded to hole the shot. Some would say lucky shot, I say skillful shot, a shot I bet George has practiced a time or two. He is yet another great San Francisco City Champion, an event that has perhaps some of the most storied history in amateur golf. Forever the name George Gandranata will be included on the trophy with some big names that have made a major impact on the local and national spotlight.
-- This story was used, with permission, from Randy Haag's Amateur Golf Blog. Haag blogged about his match play experience this year, as he made it to the round of 16, then attended the event as an observer, reporter, and videographer. His career list of victories includes the NCGA Amateur, The San Francisco City Championship, the Crump Cup at Pine Valley, and successful runs at many USGA events, the most recent of which, the 2007 US Amateur, being contested at his home course, the Olympic Club. He is also the most decorated player in the amateurgolf.com Tournament Series.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (March 7, 2010) -- Final match results, by division, from the San Francisco City Championship follow:
George Gandranata def. Cory Cory McElyea, 1-up
Herb Jensen def. Tony Wilmer, 4 & 2
Samantha Esguerra def. Bonnie Hu, 38 holes
Jim McGilley def. Dennis Jerge, 3 & 1
David Pederson def. Timothy Trefts, 5 & 4
Thanassi Arvanitis def. Greyson Prinzing, 2-up
Marco Caputo def. Martin Brenner, 2 & 1
Bob Newman def. Jonathan McMenamy, 2 & 1
Frank Angelo def. Matthew Talbot, 2-up
Jenni Jenq def. Samantha Stockton, 19 holes
Sara Banke def. Courtney Jamieson, 4 & 2