Champion John Stembridge (left) and runner-up Aidan Tran
It's not a last-place-to-first-place story. But it's pretty darn close.
Santa Cruz resident John Stembridge made birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff (par-5 18th) to defeat Aidan Tran and win the annual NCGA Amateur Stroke Play Championship on a chilly Sunday at Poppy Hills.
Now 33, Stembridge last played in the Stroke Play Championship in 2019. That year, he nearly finished dead last after rounds of 85-87.
"It goes to show where I've come from, and how much work I've put in," said Stembridge, who finished with a 54-hole total of 5-under 200. "Things started clicking for me the last week. It feels great to get a win."
A Georgia native who played at University of Auburn, Stembridge, who moved to California to work for Apple, hadn't tasted victory since a collegiate win for the Tigers at the Bluegrass Invitational. He gave a huge shout-out to swing coach Brad Marek and mental coach Paul Ashbrook for turning his game around. Marek has been a featured instructor in NCGA Golf Magazine.
Coming to the 15th hole in regulation, it didn't look like Stembridge would get a chance to snap his winless skid. Tran held a commanding three-shot lead, but back-to-back bogeys on holes Nos. 15 and 16 brought not only Stembridge into the picture, but also Baron Szeto.
On the 18th tee, Tran was still the leader at a total of 5-under, with Stembridge and Szeto just a shot behind. Tran's second shot was pulled right into the bunker, leading to a bogey, while Szeto had to settle for a par after missing his birdie putt. Stembridge, who began the day three behind Tran, reached the green in two and made his birdie putt to also get in at 5-under.
In the ensuing playoff, Tran and Stembridge went back to 18. After Tran found the fairway, Stembridge pulled his drive right. He'd receive a fortuitous bounce, however, with his ball ricocheting back into the fairway. On their approach shots, Tran found the greenside bunker. He'd get on in three but his short birdie putt lipped out. Stembridge again got on the green in two--hitting a 3-iron from 228 yards out--and proceeded to two-putt for birdie and the win.
"Aidan had piped his drive, and I wanted to get out there with him. I got a good break with the kick off the tree," said Stembridge, who shot a final round 68. "All three of us were hitting the ball well. I managed to hang in there."
Tran, a star at Clovis North High, had a final round 71. Szeto, who plays at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo, shot a final round 72 to place third at 209.
ABOUT THE NCGA Stroke Play
First played in 1944, the NCGA Stroke Play
Championship has a special history, as the
tournament has been won
by the likes of Ken Venturi and Johnny Miller. The
perpetual trophy was donated by the San Francisco
Examiner in 1944.
Championship play is 54 holes of
stroke play (18 holes per day). After 36 holes the
field will be cut to 40 players and ties. Pre-qualifying
required for non-
exempt players. Open to players with handicaps of
5.4 or lower.
View Complete Tournament Information