2003 Champion and Story

His 3-under par 69 beats Zack Miller by one shot for the title at Alister MacKenzie. Because Eric Restrepo stuck to a game plan built around patience, his mother received a nice birthday gift Monday.

Restrepo, a 20-year-old junior at UC Davis, fired a 2-under par 69 at the Alister MaxKenzie Course at Haggin Oaks to win the California State Fair Men's Amateur Golf Championship on the birthday of his mother, Rebecca. "I wanted to win it for her," said Restrepo, whose 12-under 204 total beat San Rafael's, Zack Miller by one shot and UC Davis teammate, Scott Gorder by two. "I don't have to go out and buy her anything now."

Restrepo might want to make sure Mom can make it to the amateur tournaments to which he gained an exemption with Monday's win: the Southwestern, Stocker Cup, and Scratch Players Championship. He also earned 25 Golfweek points in its national ranking of the top amateurs and joined an impressive list of past champions that includes Ken Venturi, Al Geiberger, George Archer, Kevin Sutherland, Bob E. Smith and Verne Callison.

"This is huge," said Restrepo, whose biggest previous victory was the Sacramento State Invitational.

Restrepo's gift seemed a longshot until the closing holes, when his course management, and some timely shots paid big dividends.

Miller, a 19-year old freshman at Stanford, enjoyed a two-shot lead over Restrepo with five holes to play before the chase tightened, Miller missed the green to the left, on the 188-yard, par-3 14th hole, chipped to 5 feet and then missed his par putt, trimming his lead to one. But Miller rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the 439-yard, par 4 15th hole, putting him two up with three to play. He bogeyed the 192-yard, par 3 16th from the right bunker, though, bringing Restrepo within one.

Restrepo took advantage, hitting the pin with his third shot, from 88 yards out, on the 561-yard, par 5 17th. "That was an awesome feeling," Restrepo said. He made the 6-foot birdie putt and found himself tied for the lead when Miller missed a 5-footer for birdie.

Both leaders were well short on the green in to won the 537-yard, par 5 18th. Restrepo hit a poor third shot to about 50 feet, and Miller left his short approach from behind the left bunker about 50 feet past the hole. Miller rolled his first putt 6 feet past and missed his par attempt. Restrepo, who had putted to within 3 feet, calmly stepped up and rolled in the tournament winner.

"I just wanted to hit it in as fast as I could, just line it up," said Restrepo, a former Davis High star.

Miller said he was disappointed to play the two finishing par 5s in 1-over par for the three days. "I should have played the last holes all week better," said Miller, who closed with a 70. "I played al right."

Restrepo, who began the day tied with Miller for the lead, played better. And he didn't panic when Miller built a two-stroke lead after 11 holes. "I was just trying to hit the greens and then give myself chances," said Restrepo, who recorded four birdies and one bogey on the 6,991-yard layout. "I just took what the course gave me, just focus on each shot."

Restrepo drew strength from playing in the final threesome with teammate and good friend Gordon, a former Jesuit High standout who closed with a 70. "It helps a ton just seeing a friendly face around," Restrepo said "Every time I felt nervous, just talk to Scott."

Restrepo became the third UC Davis player to win the State Fair title in the last six years. Gregg Wilkinson won in 1998, and T.J. Moulton finished first in 1999.

By John Schumacher, Sacramento Bee staff writer