2007 Champion and Story

Roseville player falls short in State Fair tournament

By Steve Pajak - Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 12:52 am PDT Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Story appeared in SPORTS section, Page C3

The California State Fair and Labor Day fireworks usually go hand in hand at Cal Expo and Haggin Oaks.

The pyrotechnics were limited to closing day at the fairgrounds this year. At the golf course, the normal final-round shootout evolved into a two-man test of survival over the last nine holes.

Brandon Harkins eagled the par-5 17th hole for the third consecutive day and used the two-shot swing Monday to beat local favorite Matt Hollinsead of Roseville by a stroke in the State Fair Men's Championship at the Alister MacKenzie course.

Harkins closed with a 2-under-par 70 and three-round total of 14-under 202. Hollinsead, the only one of 240 Haggin Oaks employees in the field, also closed with a 70.

It was the biggest win of Harkins' career. The 21-year-old Walnut Creek resident was headed back to school at Santa Barbara Community College on Monday night with a nice addition to his golf résumé that should come in handy as he explores a transfer to a four-year school.

He was off the national-rankings radar -- he missed the State Fair cut with rounds of 84-74 last year -- before his win but has three years of college athletic eligibility remaining and, evidently, a lot of upside. The college coaches trolling Haggin's fairways had to be impressed.

"I've been contending all summer, so it's nice to break through," he said. "I was right there at the city tournament (in June at Haggin Oaks, where he finished third) until I choked. This is a step forward."

Harkins started the final round with a one-shot lead over Hollinsead and John Chin. Harkins and Hollinsead separated themselves from the pack by the 10th hole, their 13-under totals putting them four shots clear of a fading field.

It was match play from there, the players said.

Hollinsead took a one-shot lead after a birdie at No. 11 but gave it back with a three-putt bogey at No. 14. When Harkins' approach shot at No. 16 sailed long and resulted in a bogey, the advantage swung back to Hollinsead.

Both players hit good drives and second shots to the 545-yard 17th (No. 4 in the non-tournament configuration). Hollinsead missed the green right but had a straightforward chip from 40 feet. Harkins had 18 downhill feet to the far-right hole location.

Hollinsead hit a tentative chip and missed an 8-footer, settling for a par. Harkins sank his eagle putt, putting him 6 under on the hole for the one week and a shot ahead.

Both players made scruffy pars on No. 18, Harkins needing only a 6-inch putt for the win.

Hollinsead, 22, will take plenty of positives from his best finish in a high-profile event, but he's tired of being second best. At Sheldon High School, he played in the shadow of more heralded players Spencer Levin and Kyle Metzler. At Cal State Stanislaus the past three years, he was No. 2 or 3 on the ladder but never No. 1.

"I'm sure the big-event win will come sooner or later," he said. "I'll take this as a positive and move on."

Hollinsead recently revamped his swing, taking four months to replace a loopy Furyk-esque take-away that limited him to a hard draw with a more neutral move from which he hits a fade. All on his own, no help from a teacher.

His red face, in other words, isn't just a product of three days in the Labor Day weekend sun but also long hours on the range and course. The tattoo on his right ankle he got on his birthday last month says "dedication" in Chinese. "In golf, life, whatever," Hollinsead said.

You get the feeling he isn't done.