by Dave Davies
CHICO, CALIF. (Sept. 26, 2011) — Lee Gearhart outplayed some of the best golfers in Chico over the last two weeks, and after Sunday's 36-hole match play final, he became at age 16 one of the youngest winners, if not the youngest, in the 84th annual Chico City Championship at Bidwell Park Golf Course. Gearhart defeated 29-year-old Chicoan Dan Mehan 2 and 1 on Sunday and in the 13-year history of Bidwell head professional Hide Kubo's tenure running the tournament, became the first high school player to win the prestigious event.
"It was great," Gearhart said. "It was really fun, a lot of good competition. I'm just glad I won."
Gearhart, a senior at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, came out of the stroke play portion of the tournament on Sept. 17 as the No. 8 seed among the 32 seeded players for match play. He won his first two matches, defeated top-seeded Cody Thompson in the quarterfinals Saturday and won his semifinal later in the day to set up his final with Mehan, a former Pleasant Valley High standout.
Gearhart built a 2-up lead after the first 18 holes Sunday, and after winning the hole on No. 14 on the back nine of the second 18 holes, held a 4-up lead with four holes to play, putting the pressure on Mehan to win every hole to stay alive.
"I started off a little slow, got down by a couple, and then I played really well for probably 18 or so holes straight, and then just kind of got it together at the end," Gearhart said.
Mehan won the par-4 15th to cut the lead to 3-up,
and made a 3-foot par putt on the par-3 16th to make it 2-up. But on the par-4 17th, Mehan missed about a 5-foot birdie try, and Gearhart sank his 2-foot par putt to halve the hole and secure the victory.
"Early on I had a little trouble just finishing my swing, and just got out of my game a little bit, and just had too little too late to battle back," said Mehan, the No. 2 seed after shooting a 68 in stroke play last weekend. "Lee played really well. He didn't give me many opportunities to catch up until the end, and it came down to a couple putts. It was definitely a good match."
Gearhart said the victory will help his golf career going forward.
"It was great," he said. "I played really well. I'm very proud of that, so, just a good confidence booster, so I'll build on it."