Burda Wins Third California Senior in a Row

FRESNO, Calif. (Nov. 3, 2010) – The person least impressed with Jeff Burda the player, it seems, is Jeff Burda.

“I don’t do anything particularly well. I don’t do anything particularly poorly. My game is just kind of there,” he reasons. “I do know how to manage my game fairly well.”

Well, enough, if fact, to retain his status as one of Northern California premier amateurs. The pride of Modesto’s Del Rio Country Club added to his reputation by sweeping to his third straight California Senior Amateur title, a wire-to-wire job that left no doubt who fired the big guns at Fort Washington Country Club.

Burda, 57, mimmicked the fall conditions, warming to the task as the temperature slowly rose in the Central Valley. His game was “just kind of there,” all right, much like saying “there are a few raisins in Fresno County.”

The Modesto bank president, seizing the momentum with a tournament-low 68 the first day, pulled away with a closing 33 Wednesday for a typically efficient 2-under-par 70. His 54-hole total of 5-under 211 (68-73-70), capped with a holed 19-foot putt for birdie on the home hole, left him five strokes clear of runner-up Dan Bieber of Alamo (71-74-71) and seven ahead of third-place Jim Knoll of Sunnyvale (70-73-75) .

If you’re keeping track, that’s 3-for-3 for Burda in the Senior Amateur since he turned 55. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

“We knew he wasn’t going to shoot any more than par,” said Knoll, a frequent opponent and partner in recent team matches. “I knew how good he’s been playing. He started to swing really good the last two weeks.”

Burda has sizzled all year, in fact. A quick summary:

Won the Northern California Golf Association Senior at Spyglass Hill and thus became the only man to win NCGA major events in five decades Reached the semifinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur at Lake Nona (Fla.), his best-ever finish in 13 USGA appearances Won the Sacramento County at Ancil Hoffman Won the Merced County at Merced CC Runner-up at the Alameda Commuters

“It’s been a good year,” he understated.

Burda, paired with his two closest pursuers, carried a 2-stroke lead going into the final round. There was a bit of drama on the front nine. Knoll, 58 the former San Jose State Spartan, holed a 50-foot chip for a birdie at the par-3 third and Bieber followed with a prime-time birdie at the 425-yard fourth. When Burda clipped a tree off the tee for a bogey at the fourth, the trio was all square.

From that point, however, Knoll and Bieber gradually backed away while Burda gradually pulled away. Burda, a coach’s son, seldom rattles and quickly recovers from minor errors. He doesn’t use a glove and performs with a purist’s ball-striking consistency.

Indeed, his game meshed with Fort Washington, the classic old-school Willie Watson design straight out of the 1920s. Medium-length birdie putts at the par-3 11th and par-5 16th, combined with a classy save from the front bunker at the short 15th, settled matters.

“When you play against someone who’s as consistent as Jeff, he just slowly eaks away,” Bieber said. “He makes very few mistakes.”

Burda has worked hard during his 50s–via training and stretching exercises–to keep himself in shape. Game-wise, he retooled his putting the last five years by claw-gripping his right hand.

“I went left-hand-low for a while, but my son Patrick (a former golfer at Cal State Stanislaus) said, ‘You gotta try this (the claw),’” Burda said. “I used to miss one short putt per round. Now it’s better. I didn’t miss any short putts today.”

The former captain of the Notre Dame golf team appears to improve with age. Two years ago at the State Amateur, at age 55, he reached the round of 16. Not bad for the oldest player in the field. Burda’s body of work has been saluted at Del Rio, another tradition-steeped valley venue. A crowd of about 200, including many top-tier players and NCGA officials, nearly shocked him to the floor at a surprise party recognizing his golf resume last summer.

“I’ve never been so surprised,” said Burda, who doesn’t unravel easily in any setting. “That was a tremendous evening.”

Then again, he likes his place in the golf universe.

“I feel better now than I have in years,” he says. “It’s a good bunch of guys who like to compete. They know if you have a bad round or a bad shot, in the big scheme of things it doesn’t mean anything.”

In the North-South Team Competition that concluded at the end of Tuesday’s second round, the NCGA dominated its SCGA counterparts 429 – 457. After succeeding last year, the North leads 11-5 overall over the South. The 429 score, produced by the team of Jeff Burda, Jim Knoll, Mark Miller and Dan Bieber was a new record. Boyd Martin, David Ujihara, Robert Carver and Kemp Richardson comprised the SCGA team.

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