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Until a few years ago, Dick Lotz's tee shots nearly matched his big hits on the PGA Tour 37 years ago.

Back then, he used persimmon woods, which don't move the golf ball quite like today's titanium. Unfortunately for Lotz — a three-time winner on the Tour — his recent physical problems counterbalanced technology.

"I've had prostate cancer and I pulled a tendon in my left thumb eight months ago," he said this week. "I'm just not in golf shape, but that is by choice."

Lotz, 64, meant that his priorities point him more toward doting on his 12 grandchild-ren than honing his game. He enjoyed success on the PGA Tour (1964-78) and the Champions Tour (1992-2001), and he knows he did better than most.

But there was a toll.

"It cost me my first marriage with the lifestyle and all the traveling," Lotz said. "It was hard."

Today, Lotz lives with his wife Sandy in Shingle Springs and still works as a part-time instructor. He will be available for lessons Monday at McHenry Golf Center, where he'll appear as a favor to one of his former students, McHenry head pro and manager Ken Miller.

"When we travel now, we're support units for our grandkids. Seven of them live within 10 miles of us. We baby-sit and watch their sports games," he said. "I don't feel any less healthy. The doctors say they caught it (the cancer) early. They said I'll most likely die from something else."

Lotz, born in Oakland, grew up during one of the golden eras of golf in the Bay Area. Younger than Tony Lema and Ken Venturi but older than Johnny Miller, Lotz always found a game with such players as Ron Cerrudo, Jim Weichers, Ross Randall and others. Between 1959 and '63, either Dick or brother John won the Alameda Commuters.

"It was an exciting time," he said. "You just wanted to follow in their footsteps.

Lotz made some footprints of his own:

He won the 1969 Alameda County Open and the 1970 Monsanto and Kemper opens on the Tour.

He tied for eighth in the 1970 PGA, finished seventh on the money list that year and received Golf Digest magazine's most improved golfer award.

His best finish on the Champions Tour was a tie for fourth at the 1994 Bank of Boston.

Lotz also broke in a young and undersized caddie during the early 1970s at the Hartford Open. Later, Bruce Edwards worked for Tom Watson and became one of the most successful caddies of all time until his death due to Lou Gehrig's Disease in April of 2004.

"Bruce was 13 and was about four inches taller than the bag when I met him. He was the only caddie available that afternoon," Lotz remembered. "I stayed in touch with him until a few months before his death."

Locally, Lotz is best known as the first head pro at Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp (1996). He'll begin his lesson day Monday at McHenry at 9 a.m. Call 523-5151.

THE SHAG BAG — Former Downey High star Nick Bell has blossomed as a fifth-year senior for Cal State Monterey Bay. Bell, who works as a caddie at Cypress Point, won the Bakersfield Invitational late last year and his stroke-average has improved from around 78 last year to 73 this season. ... Former University of the Pacific player Reid Scarff was beaten 2 and 1 by St. Mary's College product Chadd Cocco in the final of the San Francisco City. ...

Turlock Christian graduate Joey Fair, The Bee's 2006 Stanislaus District Golfer of the Year, has enjoyed a good freshman season at Hawaii-Hilo. He and his team will take part in the Stevinson Ranch Invitational, sponsored by Colorado University, March 26-27. ... Duke basketball star Lindsey Harding, the point guard for the top-ranked Blue Devils, broke the school's career assist record formerly held by Hilary Howard, the director of communications for the Northern California Golf Association.

HOLES-IN-ONE — Ernest Pinkston, Modesto, 185-yard 12th at Creekside, 5-wood ... Jerry Ballesta, Sonora, 125-yard 12th at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 8-iron ... Richard Lozano, Riverbank, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, pitching wedge ... Richard Hernandez, Ceres, 103-yard 13th at River Oaks, Ceres, 9-iron ... Joe Machado, Ceres, 86-yard 16th at River Oaks, pitching wedge.

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