The 26th Modesto City Golf Championship was dominated by Modestans, and what's wrong with that?
In Jim Atchison and Jane Irwin, the tournament featured winners who call the local municipal courses their golf home — Irwin at Creekside and Atchison at Dryden Park. Both used their local knowledge to turn back spirited challenges.
Atchison, 30, a Ceres High graduate who played at Modesto Junior College, shortens courses with a three-quarters swing that produces maximum yardage. His strength figured in a major way during the three-way playoff against Jamie Looper of Oakdale and Ryan Carter of Stockton.
The trio tied at 6-under-par 138 Sunday and promptly walked to Creekside's first hole, a reachable par-5. The finish was taut. Carter, a shop assistant at Swenson Park who graduated from Lincoln High and San Joaquin Delta (he'll transfer to Sonoma State this fall), closed his 67 with his only bogey. Atchison, competing in the day's final group, also bogeyed the 18th to create the playoff, but he liked his chances.
"I felt like I gave it away, but I still knew I was in a playoff," he said. "I figured my odds were good."
Looper, two holes ahead of Atchison, felt the same after he closed his 64 with a birdie (his ninth) at the 18th. But in the playoff, Atchison ruled.
After both Looper and Carter pulled their second shots into poor lies behind a tree, Atchison launched a 5-iron from 190 yards that pierced through a headwind and finished 35 feet from the hole. Looper and Carter bogeyed while Atchison carefully three-putted for par and the victory.
It was the first Northern California Golf Association-sanctioned win for Atchison (70-68--138) who received a plaque and a $360 Creekside gift certificate. He also can look back on a first-round 70 at Dryden, despite a harsh wind, as a better-than-good building block.
He needed it because he was pushed by Looper, 47, the NCGA Cup Matches qualifier and club champion at Oakdale CC, and Carter. Finishing four strokes off the pace were defending champion Peter Canevari of Modesto and 2005 winner J.D. Padgett de Regt.
"I just played and tried not to think about it too much," Atchison said. "I played the course rather than the man."
A nifty subplot was provided by senior flight winner Jeff Burda of Modesto, the 1997 and 2004 City champion, whose 71-66--137 from the tips bettered Atchison. The difference was Burda and the seniors rotated from Creekside to Dryden — opposite from the championship flight — so the conditions weren't identical.
Merced senior Rob Thompson also logged the tournament's best score a few years ago but was not the recognized winner. This year, Burda, 55, entered as a senior to accrue NCGA senior points. Regardless, his game remains sharp. He spiced his 66 at Dryden with a hole-in-one at the 189-yard 17th for his first-ever ace in competition.
"It's still important to support the local tournament," Burda said. "I'm hoping to qualify for the first Senior Match Play in August at Spyglass Hill."
The women's division also produced middle-aged class in Irwin, 53, who plays for the Creekside Women's Club. Irwin shot 75-82--152, three strokes better than Johansen High product Allyson Pena and four better than 2003 City champion and 1999 State Women's Amateur finalist Katy Joslin of Oakdale.
THE SHAG BAG — Marina Martinez of Modesto labored on the greens and shot 85 and 78 during U.S. Women's Open Sectional Qualifying on Monday at The Farms in Rancho Santa Fe. She placed far behind medalist Liselotte Neumann (146), the 1988 Open champion. ... Shane Balfour, the longtime head pro and director of golf at Turlock CC and Diablo Grande, has resurfaced as an instructor at McHenry Golf Center. Yes, the Englishman will fly the Union Jack at McHenry during the Ryder Cup matches. "No one will prevent me from doing it," he said. "I'm really excited to be here. I want to teach a lot again." ...
Wonderful outreach: Granite Hills High, which draws from poor areas in Porterville, surveyed the valley for assistance to help its golf program. The only man to return the call was Stevinson Ranch owner George Kelley, who welcomed the team to his course this week for golf and a stay-over. Kelley and Titleist donated much equipment to Granite Hills, and Nationwide Tour pro Matt Hansen of Atwater conducted a group lesson. "These are the kinds of theings we need to do to really grow the game," Kelley said.
HOLE-IN-ONE — Rich DePonte of Oakdale scored an ace — and a Toyota FJ Cruiser SUV — during the recent Clint Eastwood Invitational in Carmel. DePonte, an Oakdale CC member, holed a 5-iron tee shot at Tehama GC's uphill 185-yard sixth.
Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.