There’s a sports cliche — leaving it all on the field — and that’s exactly what defending champion Steve Pacheco and several others did at the 19th annual Santa Cruz City Amateur at DeLaveaga Golf Course on Sunday. Literally.
Pacheco, suffering from a severe migraine headache, vomited four times on the course during the final round. He also said he suffered a vision impairment for three holes, but there was no way he was leaving the course before putting out on the 18th hole. That’s be too easy during a bad round, he said.
The 19th installment of the City Am was conceivably the best to date and packed with emotion, odd and costly penalties and a fair share of club smashing and profanity.
In the end, Menlo Park’s enthusiastic 19-year-old Weston Payne on the first playoff hole against Stockton’s Patrick Kucich. After a near 6-hour round came to a close, Payne playfully collapsed as he accepted a congratulatory handshake from tournament director Tim Loustalot.
“This is the first tournament I’ve ever won,” Payne said. “It feels unbelievable. I’m stoked.”
It would have been odd had Pacheco – a local fan favorite and two-time champion – left early, because the entire fleet of golf carts was essentially following his foursome, which included Stanford All-American Joseph Bramlett, Aptos’ Travis Stephens and Santa Cruz’s Brian Blackwell. It was the leader’s group.
And Stephens was causing a ruckus too. He was the only player in the final pairing having some success. But his dreams of winning took a brutal turn for the worst on the 14th hole, when he played another player’s ball and was assessed a two-stroke penalty. He wound up tying for second place, a stroke behind Kucich and Payne.
“I’m pissed,” he said. “It cost me the tournament.”
Stephens’ candid emotion, though not golf saavy, is everything that makes the City Am special. The players, many of whom are local, want to win local bragging rights. And they sure as heck don’t want an out-of-towner winning.
After Saturday’s first round, Bramlett, a Saratoga resident, said this tournament meant as much to him as anyone else. Sure, he was using it as a warm-up for the upcoming U.S. Amateur. He recovered from a wrist injury and was trying to get in some extra work, but he said he liked the vibe of city tournaments and the amount of pride put into them by the players. He wanted to take the trophy out of city limits.
After jumping to the first round lead, Bramlett was already penciled in as champion. But things went bad, very badly. He closed with a 7-over-par 77 – completely unacceptable by his standards. Within minutes of posting his final results at the scorer’s table, he was gone.
Bramlett was right about the local pride. Why do you think Pacheco stuck around until the bitter end despite looking like he was on his death bed? Why else would Santa Cruz’s Greg Auer throw his ball into the bushes on No. 14 after putting out for a disappointing bogey? [He finished in a tie for third, once stroke back.] Why would Santa Cruz’s Cory McElyea unleash the F-bomb after realizing an errant tee shot on No. 16 was unplayable and cost him two strokes and sole possession of the lead?
“You heard me, I was pretty loud,” said McElyea, when asked of his level of disappointment in tying for third place.
He wasn’t alone. Bramlett couldn’t control his language after his approach shot on No. 8 hit a tree on the left of the fairway and deflected right back across it and out of bounds for a penalty. He also four-putted on No. 3.
The guy who kept it together most was Payne.
And he had every reason to fall apart. He drove the green on the 315-yard 13th hole, but was assessed a two-stroke penalty after chipping out from 45 feet away for eagle because he left failed to pull the pin. One second, he was throwing his wedge to the ground in jubilation and the next he had the palms of his hands on his temples in disbelief and disgust. Still, it was a great – and frustrating – par.
Yes, emotion was high at the City Am and Payne couldn’t control himself when the title was his. As Loustalot was introding the new champion to the gallery, Payne stepped up and did something Loustalot wasn’t expecting. Instead of taking his winner’s silver plate, he picked up the two-piece perpetual trophy — each year’s winner’s are engraved on little plackards attached to the base and a giant crystal bowl sits atop of it.
He hoisted high with two hands and planted a kiss on it. And posed for a quick photo for family members. He made local history and there was no hiding his joy.