Ron Agostini

Agostini on Golf: Johansen’s Pena, Gregori’s Ebster carry MMC flag to State

Everywhere Gregori sophomore Chris Ebster goes in his golf journey, he’s covering tracks already made by his mother.

He’s advancing to the CIF State Championship on June 3 at Poppy Hills, just like his mom, Dana Arnold-Ebster.

He got there via a gutsy 1-over 73 Monday at NorCals at Corral de Tierra in Salinas, where his mom tried to qualify years ago for the U.S. Women’s Open.

He has reached State as a sophomore, just like his mom.

He’ll go to State at Poppy Hills, just like his mom.

“Remember, it’s in your blood,” the mother has told the son.

“Yeah, Mom, OK,” the son responds.

Ebster will join Johansen junior Daniel Pena at State after each took a different route toward their 73s at NorCals. They hit the qualifying score on the number and joined seven other individual qualifiers for the season’s most prestigious tournament.

Central Catholic, which made local history last year by qualifying as a team for State, placed eighth at NorCals. Only the top three teams advanced. Matthew Robinson led the Raiders with a 75.

Arnold-Ebster, an instructor at McHenry Golf Center, was a prominent Modesto junior star during the 1980s. She played for USC and qualified for the 2000 U.S. Women’s Open but, in 1986, she was a trailblazing Davis High sophomore.

Back then, girls played on the boys teams. At the ’86 NorCals, Arnold-Ebster teed it up with the Davis boys in the morning at Chico’s Butte Creek Country Club.

But later that day, she won an unofficial NorCals for high school girls with established handicaps, shooting 71 to advance to State at Poppy Hills.

Undaunted, her son is carving his own path. He was a member of that history-making Central Catholic team in 2014 – turning in his team’s best rounds last spring at both Masters and State – then transferred to Gregori and didn’t become eligible until midseason.

What he’s done, in one important category, raises him above his mother and the rest. He’s believed to be the first boys golfer in the area to qualify for State as a freshman and as a sophomore.

“I think it’s more impressive to do it as an individual, but it’s better to go with your team,” Ebster said, “It relaxes you more.”

Ebster’s day at Corral de Tierra started with a sonic boom – birdie, birdie, birdie, par, birdie. He opened by holing putts of 20 feet at the first and 60 feet at the second. Envision how your dream round begins. That was Ebster on Monday.

“I did have a game plan,” he said. “I played the first three holes on the practice range. I hit each shot in order. It worked.”

He struggled from there, making two double bogeys, but held on at the end.

Pena, the 2014 Masters medalist, scored his own breakthrough. His season ended at NorCals last year after he shot an 81 and tied for 58th at Roseville’s Sierra View Country Club.

A year later, his start was the polar opposite of Ebster’s. Pena struggled and was 3-over after his first 10 holes. He bounced back by nearly making an eagle at the par-5 13th and hit his approach shot to tap-in range for another birdie at the 14th.

Pena played his final eight holes in 2-under but, with everything riding on it, he scrambled for a closing par at the 18th by draining a putt he estimated at nearly 30 feet.

“There wasn’t much break to it, but I had a deep-down feeling that putt had to go in,” Pena said. “I thought that maybe Chris and I would be going into a playoff. It turned out great that two MMC (Modesto Metro Conference) players are going to State together.”

The Shag Bag – Three area players made a spirited run but missed qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open on Monday at Serrano CC in El Dorado Hills: Oakdale’s Mabel Wong (71-75 – 146); mini-tour pro and former Sierra High standout Julie Shutler (72-74 – 146), who tied for sixth and missed by five strokes, and East Union junior Brooke Riley, who eventually will play for Northwestern, tied for 18th (75-75 – 150). Qualifying were former Colorado star Jennifer Coleman (68-71 – 139) and Fullerton amateur Beth Lillie (70-71 – 141). ... None of the 10 finalists came close to a hole-in-one, which carried a $50,000 prize, during last weekend’s Hole-In-One Shootout to celebrate Escalon Golf Course’s 35th anniversary.