PEBBLE BEACH – Scott Hardy is beginning to make competing in NCGA major championships look very easy.
After capturing the NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship at Poppy Hills, the 35-year-old continued a streak of never placing out of the top three of the NCGA events he’s entered the last two years, a streak that now includes two Public Links titles in 2010 and 2011 to go with the Stroke Play. The St. Mary’s golf coach has seven overall titles, creeping ever closer to the two-person club of double-digit major championship winners that is Randy Haag and Casey Boyns. The Stroke Play is Hardy’s second such title; he is the only player to win multiple Stroke Play championships. The amateurgolf.com member finished third in the same event a year ago after entering the final round with the lead.
Starting the day one stroke off Boyns’ lead, Hardy struggled for the first 11 holes, hitting only two greens, but staying only one behind Boyns. A birdie on the par-5 12th hole stopped the bleeding. Birdies on 16 and the final hole secured the championship. On the 18th, champion daringly split the tree and the woods to the right of the fairway to place the ball on the green’s upper tier, the requisite position to attack the devilish back-left hole location.
“That birdie on 12 really got me going,” Hardy said. “But if I didn’t have a short game today, I would have shot 80.” Indeed, after hitting 33 of 36 greens in getting to 5-under for the championship after two rounds, the gritty even-par final round was testament to superior wedge play and putting.
Eric Ash of the Youth on Course TFT GS posted the round of the day. The 18-year-old carded eight birdies en route to a 67, a score matched by Hardy and Boyns in the second round, and by first-round leader Cory McElyea. In a card-off, Ash earned the runner-up position, with Boyns and Grant Rappleye finishing third, all tied at 3-under-par 213.
Playing his freshman season as a senior golfer in 2011, Boyns demonstrated a younger person’s game in taking the lead after the second round. But the 55-year-old double-bogeyed the first and third holes in the final round, and was unable to make enough birdies to overcome the shaky start. Boyns previously won the Stroke Play in 2007, and has the overall lead in NCGA majors won at 14.
Rappleye made a run for the top slot in making four birdies on the front nine in the final round, but the Valley Hi member cooled off with a 1-over back nine.
Defending champion Kevin Lucas of Folsom was firmly in contention after posting a first-round 71 but was unable to sustain any momentum over the weekend, finishing in a tie for 26th place. The University of Nevada-Reno student set a tournament scoring record of 11-under 205 in 2010, breaking the previous record by four shots.
Hardy now looks to the NCGA Amateur Match Play next month, a championship where he lost in the finals a year ago. It is the only NCGA major he has yet to win.
This was the eighth playing of the championship, but an earlier iteration of the event dates to 1944, and lists NCGA luminaries such as Ken Venturi, Harvey Ward, George Archer and Johnny Miller as champions. After a nearly 40-year hiatus, the tournament began again in 2004 with Hardy’s win.