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SF City Championship: Match Play Preview

by Elizabeth Kricfalusi, for amateurgolf.com

“Pray for sunshine!” has become the unofficial battle cry for the remainder of the San Francisco City Golf Championship that kicks off the first round of match play this weekend at Harding Park. After the steady rains that pummeled the Men’s qualifying rounds last Saturday and the frigid conditions for Wednesday’s Senior’s qualifiers, Tournament Director Judith Powell talked about the impact these kinds of conditions can have on the players.

“It kind of points out the humbling quality of golf,” she said. “It reminds you that on any given day somebody could be really good and even, at times, the greatest thing going and having a great year. But it just depends on that particular Saturday and how the weather goes that it might not be my day. And I think that that’s something that all golfers kind of like to remember. It makes you want to come out the next weekend thinking that today IS my day.”

Powell, who has been the City Championship’s Tournament Director since January 2004 and who has been golfing competitively since she was 11, went on to say that she was impressed with how the players coped with the situation, especially the senior flight. “I was standing out there all day yesterday and, by the end of the day, my back was so frozen up. I couldn’t imagine adding 25 years to me and trying to be able to play at that level, but those guys played great. We had a 70 and three 71s… Very impressive. They played the golf course at 6500, so not that much shorter than what was played over the weekend.”

This year’s Men’s Championship field is extremely strong, according to Powell. “We’ve got a great combination of some of the top Northern California point getters and the NCGA point getters—people like Randy Haag and Bob Niger (last year’s runner-up). As well, we’ve got a pretty strong field of some younger kids like Taylor Hobin. And Domingo (Jojola, who tied for low score at Harding in the first round of qualifiers), he’s a great story. The members at Lake Merced were able to give him some sort of hybrid membership so he could go over there and play a lot of golf, recognizing his innate talent and that playing at a first-class facility would really take him to the next level… And then you’ve got Steve Sparolini (last year’s tournament champion) coming back and he’s a great player, so I’m really excited. It will be really good.”

Powell also talked about what makes this tournament, which is also a fundraiser for the San Francisco First Tee program for children, so popular with the competitive amateur golfers year after year. “First, I think it’s a tremendous achievement to win it.. First off, you’ve got to qualify for it… And then I think when you golf, you are pretty much aware of what a feat it is to win five matches in a row and go out there weekend after weekend after weekend… And then there’s the long, rich tradition of the people who’ve won this. To win this, you find yourself in very good company.”

She also praised what she referred to as the “everyman” quality of the tournament, and how competitive even the Open flights are. “I think what’s nice is that you might not be a 4.5 handicap, you might be a 10, but when we did the flights of 32, there were maybe three strokes deciding those flights either way, so they are very competitive in and of themselves… You know, you have that photo on your Web site (Domingo Jojola and Iose Iulio) where you have a 43-year-old guy playing with an 18-year-old kid, and I think that shows the kind of camaraderie of golf in the truest sense.”

The Women’s Championship qualifying round will also be held on Saturday. Powell talked about how the younger players would benefit by golfing against some of what she termed “the old guard”, such as defending champion Sally Krueger and Eva Monisteri, who are both returning this year.

“It’s just a really great competitive opportunity for them to be able to play side-by-side against a Sally Krueger. Not only because she’s a great golfer, but also for a young woman to see somebody who could have played professional golf and instead chose a career as a physician. So it’s great to realize that all these options are out there in your life and to watch someone who has so gracefully and so successfully been able to do both things at the same time.”

Powell offered some advice for the players in case this weekend’s weather doesn’t improve. “If you can get somebody to caddie for you, instead of just having them carry your bags, have them fore-caddie. With golf and the elements, some days your game is going to be there and some days it isn’t. But what’s frustrating is when you hit a decent shot and, because it’s been raining and so wet out, your golf plugs and you can’t find it. So you’ve got to take a lost-ball penalty and, in match play, that can kind of turn the tide.” She also recommended that those players who have two sets of club might want to switch from their blades to cavity-backed clubs to help prevent them from catching in the grass.

Player’s Perspective

Last year’s runner-up Bob Niger, from El Dorado Hills, has already started off this season with a bang. The 44-year-old amateurgolf.com points leader, who says that he always does better in the second half of the season, has a 1st, 3rd, and 11th-place finish under his belt so far this year. However, he says he always feels a bit of self-doubt the day before any tournament, so yesterday he took a lesson to help him prepare for the event.

“Hopefully I’m on the right track because, in match play, it’s all about getting off to a good start. So hopefully we’ll get some momentum early and everything will be all right.” Niger added that he isn’t too concerned about what the weather turns out to be.

“I don’t care what we play in quite honestly, especially in a match-play thing where you know you’re playing on the same hole, at the same time, with the guy you’re playing. So whatever conditions you’ve got, he’s got. Being one of the older guys, I think the bad weather gives some of the older guys a little bit of an edge, just from the mental point of view, where we might have played in more junky weather than some of the younger kids.”

Saturday Preview

- The match to follow may be Redwood City’s Trent Tessler vs. Brentwood’s Garret Wagner. Both players are in the top ten of the amateurgolf.com tournament points list this year after three events, as well as the top ten of the NCGA points list. Tessler qualified for the City’s match play with a two-day total of 145, three strokes ahead of Wagner. The cut was 150.

- Because there were an uneven number who made the cut, defending champion Stephen Sparolini has a bye in the first round. He will be paired on Sunday morning with the winner of Saturday’s Kevin Kobalter/Jason Stone match.

- 11-year-old Grace Na will be making her first SF City appearance in the Women’s Championship qualifying round.

The Men’s Championship round of 64 tees off at 7:30 a.m. at Harding Park. The Women’s qualifying round begins at 10:30 a.m.
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