2005 Champion and Story

State Fair men's championship: Taking field to school
As he heads off to UCLA, Erik Flores takes title with him.

By Steve Pajak -- Bee Staff Writer

Erik Flores' goals are so lofty, he didn't even realize his victory Monday at the California State Fair Men's Amateur Championship was his first outside the junior ranks.

"I guess it is," he said after giving it some thought.

It's likely his first of many.

Flores, an 18-year-old Nevada Union High School graduate who heads for UCLA on a golf scholarship next week, shot a final-round 68 at the MacKenzie course at Haggin Oaks. His three-round total of 11-under-par 205 was three shots better than Marc Peterson (73) of Chico and Jay Choe (68) of Yorba Linda.

He beat a top-notch field of 144 that included nine members of the UCLA golf team, defending champion Peter Campbell among them.

"It was nice to keep the UCLA streak alive," Flores said.

Flores, Peterson and Anthony Verna each were 9 under through 14 holes Monday. Verna, who started the day three shots behind second-round leader Peterson and a shot behind Flores, cracked first with a three-putt double bogey at No. 15. The Orinda resident, playing in the group ahead of the other leaders, finished fourth after a 71.

The championship essentially was decided on the par-4 16th - the usual No. 8 on the rerouted tournament layout - when Flores severely hooked his drive, put his approach 40 feet right of the hole and sank the severely right-to-left breaking birdie putt.

Peterson had only 80 yards left after splitting the middle off the tee. But he erred long on his approach, leaving a downhill 25-footer. Three putts later, he trailed Flores by two shots, making the final two holes more ceremonial than dramatic.

Coming off a career-low 65 Sunday, Peterson admitted to a restless night and a case of nerves once play began.

"I think I hit one solid drive in 54 holes," the 24-year-old former Chico State player said after a final round that included one birdie and two bogeys. "I had 40-footers all day."

Flores said he noticed Peterson's struggles but just kept attacking. The idea wasn't to assess his position until the 17th hole when, with two par-5s remaining, he would strategize.

Turns out, he didn't have to think too much en route to becoming the event's youngest winner in at least 40 years, according to tournament officials.

Nothing about Flores, 5-foot-11 and 155 pounds, says next great local golfer. Then you listen to his fellow competitors rave. Then you see him swing. And putt. Then get closer and see the size of his hands. His father, Ricardo, carried the clubs Monday, but his mother, Laura, gets credit for the vice grips.

"My mom says she blessed me with big hands," Flores said.

Laura used hers for the piano, her son for 320-yard drives and a feathery putting touch.

The UCLA golf team is taking a weeklong bonding trip around California beginning next week. Flores doesn't have much left to prove to his teammates. But that doesn't mean he isn't still driven.

"I want to be first-team All-American all four years," he said. He might not know the State Fair was his first amateur victory, but he knows that only four players have accomplished the feat.

With a college degree taking precedence over plans to play professionally, Flores figures to be a Labor Day fixture in Sacramento for years.

Make room on the trophy shelf.

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The Bee's Steve Pajak can be reached at (916) 326-5526 or spajak@sacbee.com.