2008 Champion and Story

State fair golf: Blustery day can't knock Grush off course

By Steve Pajak - spajak@sacbee.com
Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Story appeared in SPORTS section, Page C6

Venturi, Archer, Geiberger, Sutherland … Grush?

Yes, Matt Grush. The same guy whose golf résumé two years ago wasn't strong enough to merit a spot in the 144-player California State Fair Amateur Men's Championship field polished off a wire-to-wire win Monday in the region's most prestigious amateur event.

His final round of 1-under-par 71 in windy conditions at Haggin Oaks' MacKenzie course was good for a 54-hole total of 13-under 203 and three shots clear of runners-up Chris Johnson (70) and Stephen Hale (71).

Grush's name will join a list of impressive past winners on the State Fair perpetual trophy.

"I guess I should try to get used to it," said the self-effacing 21-year-old UC Santa Barbara senior with the plaid shorts, cockeyed hat and quick wit.

On a trying day in which the best score among the 45 players making the 36-hole cut was a 70, Grush played the first 11 holes in 2 under par and didn't make his first of two bogeys until No. 12, after which he held a four-shot lead.

Stanford junior Joseph Bramlett (75) trailed by two shots to start the day but quickly fell off the pace with a front-nine 39. Hale, a Cal sophomore who started three shots back, moved within two of Grush before making a double bogey at No. 8 and a bogey at No. 9. Johnson, a 40-year-old from Rancho Cordova, birdied No. 14 to get within two of the lead but missed a 10-foot birdie attempt at No. 14 and then three-putted No. 15 to stall his bid.

The tournament turned in Grush's favor for good on No. 15 after his approach from 130 yards and the middle of the fairway ended up in a bunker short of the green. He blasted to six feet and made the putt.

"That was the turning point," he said. "If I miss that putt … I don't want to think what might have happened."

The win was Grush's first since a Los Angeles high school league tournament five years ago. It was a popular one, too, for the No. 2 player on the Gauchos' golf team, judging from the dozens of hearty handshakes.

In a world of tall, lanky look-alikes, the 5-foot-8, 155-pounder with a laid-back personality, permanent smile and booming-beyond-his-size drives stood out.

After opening with rounds of 64 and 68, there wasn't any chest-thumping. "I'm a make-the-cut kind of guy," he said. "We'll see."

Johnson put up a good fight. He started fast with a 35-footer for birdie on No. 1 and a 40-footer for birdie on No. 2 to get within two shots of the lead, but he bogeyed Nos. 3 and 4 and couldn't get closer again. He was far from disappointed.

"Three rounds under par is the best I've ever done," said the veteran of 15 State Fair tournaments.

Hale birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to get within two shots of the lead. But when Grush's second shot to the par-5 closing hole found the green's left fringe, Hale's last-gasp effort was for naught.

He had some consolation.

"It's cool to be low Bear," Hale said. Three Cal players (John Murphy was fourth, George Gandranata sixth) finished in the top nine