Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: Spring fling begins this week in Bay Area

If you’re a local golf fan, you can’t help but like what’s coming up in the next few days and stretching into June.

There’s not much going on, other than major events on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours and the United States Golf Association. And all will be contested a short drive from home.

The spring fling starts Thursday with the LPGA’s Swinging Skirts Classic at Lake Merced Country Club in Daly City. Teenage phenom Lydia Ko, top-ranked in the world, will defend her title against such stars as Stacy Lewis. Ko birdied the 18th hole a year ago to edge Lewis by a stroke.

The Swinging Skirts, which staged a successful inaugural in 2014, also will welcome Paula Creamer, Suzann Pettersen, Morgan Pressel, Beatriz Recari, Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie. Also, there is rookie Sei Young Kim, who dramatically holed out from the fairway in a playoff to win the Lotte Championship in Hawaii last weekend.

Harding Park in San Francisco steps onto the stage next Wednesday for the World Golf Championships Match Play. Worry not about the absence of Tiger Woods, because 21-year-old Masters champion Jordan Spieth will move the excitement needle.

A format change for the Match Play will extend excitement through the week before the title match May 3. Rather than the 1-through-64 seeding not unlike the NCAA Tournament – the Match Play’s former setup – the field will be divided into 16 four-player groups. Each group will compete in round-robin matches, much like soccer’s World Cup, and the winner of each group advances to the round of 16 for single elimination.

While the Match Play nears its finish, the USGA unveils a new event, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, on May 2 at the famed Olympic Club in San Francisco. The companion U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball will be held May 9-13 at Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore. This marks the first time the USGA has added championships to its roster since 1987.

To make room, the national golf organization axed two tournaments – the U.S. Amateur Public Links and U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. The reason is the growing trend at the regional and state levels toward four-ball competitions, where two-person teams compete. At the end of each hole, the player with the lowest score wins that hole for his or her side. Fans will relate to this format, given their familiarity with it back home at their clubs. It also encourages more aggressive play.

The starting field of 128 sides (256 players) will play two rounds of stroke play with the low 32 teams (64 players) advancing to match play.

SMU star Bryson Dechambeau, one of the country’s top amateurs and a former Modestan, annexed one of the few exemptions from qualifying. His partner is SMU teammate Austin Smotherman, the 2012 Sac-Joaquin Section Masters medalist from Loomis.

And in Sacramento, construction on the 18th-hole grandstand is under way for the 36th U.S. Senior Open at Del Paso CC from June 25-28. Golden oldies such as Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Vijay Singh, Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson and others will compete for $3.5 million.

Del Paso, which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, has hosted four USGA events, the last one the 1982 U.S. Women’s Open. It’s never welcomed a major men’s tournament, however, until now.

Tickets start at $39 per day. They’re available at 2015ussenioropen.com.

The Shag Bag – Jeff Burda of Modesto finished second, one stroke behind Monterey’s Casey Boyns, in the Northern California Golf Association Senior Championship at Spyglass Hill. Burda (72-75 – 147), a two-time champion, closed with five consecutive pars. ... An Arbor Day tree-planting ceremony will be held Friday at 3:30 p.m. at Modesto Municipal. It’s sponsored by the city of Modesto. ... Coming up: The 26th Children’s Crisis Center fundraiser tournament Monday at Del Rio CC. There are still a few openings for foursomes. Call Wendy Evans, 404-8883, or Shari Arakelian, 613-3050; and the 33rd Modesto City Championship on June 13-14. ...

The Big Sky Conference, featuring host Sacramento State, will hold its men’s championships for the second straight year at Greenhorn Creek in Angels Camp. Eight NCAA Division I teams return to the gold country Monday through Wednesday, and the winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Regional. “Greenhorn Creek is a great track demanding quality shots to be successful,” Big Sky spokesman Jon Kaspar said. “You can’t just tee it up and let it rip, so if you hit a bad shot, you better hope to bail out to the right area.” Admission is free.

Hole-In-One – Laurie Hanrahan, Oakdale, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 5-iron.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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