PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (August 13, 2010) --John Catlin’s trips to Pebble Beach in August each of the last two years produced wildly different results.
The 19-year-old Carmichael resident last played at Spyglass a year ago in the NCGA Junior, making the cut but then finishing in last place with a final-round 83. A year later, he found himself atop the region with a 3 and 2 victory in Northern California’s most prestigious amateur event, the NCGA Amateur Match Play. In doing so, he defeated one of the top mid-amateurs in the state in St. Mary’s Golf Coach Scott Hardy.
The scheduled 36-hole final got off to a roller-coaster start as there were no halved holes within the opening six. Hardy finally established and held a 1-up lead with a kick-in birdie on the par-5 seventh, a lead he would hold for the next 18 holes.
“I just tried to keep hitting good shots,” the champion said. “He’s (Hardy) got such an incredible short game…I knew I’d start to make some putts.”
If the best coaches and teachers lead by example, then, as demonstrated today, the 34-year-old Hardy ranks with the best of coaches. His almost Houdini-esque ability to escape trouble produced par-saving bunker shots, chips and an array of holed five-footers that maintained a lead that bounced between 1 and 2-up throughout most of the day, though the morning 18 ended all square.
But Catlin possesses a solid, whiplash action that produces a ball flight and straight path that Tiger Woods would kill for right now. And the constant avoidance of the big mistake allowed the 2009 Jesuit High graduate to keep the match close. “I’ve always been a straight driver. I felt solid all week on these fairways,” he said.
That consistency, and the grind of a 36-hole match started to take their toll toward the middle of the final 18 holes. Catlin bombed a 25-footer for birdie on the 27th hole, Spyglass’ 9th, and followed that with another long putt on the 28th hole that sparked some momentum and a 2-up lead. “After I made that putt on 10 I thought I had it,” the New Mexico Lobo said. “But I had to stay present and not think about the trophy. Scott’s too good to let up. He put a lot of pressure on me.”
The 28th hole perhaps best exemplified the spirit of the match. After Catlin nuked a drive practically to the 100-yard marker (like most young players, Catlin possessed an almost preternatural confidence in the driver), Hardy drove it wide left nearly into Spyglass’s parallel 9th fairway. After punching out into the 9th fairway, he then hit his third shot over the trees to within five feet of the cup – an absurdly difficult recovery shot. Catlin then answered with a 25-foot birdie putt, producing what CBS basketball announcer Bill Raftery might have labeled a “dagger” moment.
Catlin played 139 holes over the course of two rounds of stroke-play qualifying and five rounds of match play (with the final accounting for 34 holes). Perhaps the demands the championship places on endurance explains why the North Ridge member’s win extends a nine-year stretch of victories by college golfers (the last mid-amateur to win was PGA Tour champion Matt Bettencourt back in 2001). The win also stopped Hardy’s quest to add a sixth NCGA trophy to his case. The Amateur is the only title to elude him of the events he is eligible.
So how did Catlin dramatically improve from the bottom of the junior leaderboard to the top of the Northern California amateur game in one year at the same venue?
“Playing college golf,” he said. “It made me a better player. After playing against Oklahoma State, TCU and USC this course doesn’t seem nearly as hard.”
Catlin heads back to Albuquerque to begin his sophomore season with a major NCGA feather in his cap.