SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Burda has annexed too many trophies and collected too many medals to fall back on excuses.
So he didn't.
"I can't blame anything but between my ears. It's all mental out here," the Modesto bank president said Tuesday, moments after his U.S. Amateur Championship came to an end. "You know from the first hole on, you must hit it on the fairway. It's penal when you miss the short grass."
Burda, 54, the second-oldest player in the field of 312, is all too cognizant of the fact that golf doesn't handicap according to age. He stumbled to rounds of 79 and 73, for 12-over-par 152, and fell far short of his goal — qualifying for the 64-man match-play bracket.
What he also knows is that — whether he was one of the tournament's senior citizens or a collegiate flatbelly — he still had enough game to be fighting it out today. Simply, Del Rio Country Club's seven-time club champion lacked the goods this week.
"I wanted to (make match play) because I was playing well. I've been hitting the ball well and my putter has gotten a lot better," Burda said. "I was focused on getting into match play. I just started making bogeys."
His bogey train left the station during a long and bizarre Monday at the Olympic Club's Lakeside Course, the scene of so much glory over the years. The distractions piled on top of one another — a four-hour delay as fog shrink-wrapped the hillside above Lake Merced, followed by a no-show by Burda's assigned caddie.
"I came out and had breakfast, talked to a lot of people, did some shopping and went back to the hotel," he said. "I didn't start until 4:15 and you already know you won't finish."
Burda promptly bogeyed four of his first eight holes, mostly via off-target tee shots.
"I had to wedge out three times," he said. "When I missed the green or the fairway, it was usually by only a few yards, but that's part of the deal here."
By the time he reached the 607-yard No. 16 — Burda's final hole Monday — it was virtually dark. "I holed a four-foot putt for par and I could hardly see the cup," he said.
Burda finished off the 79 early Tuesday morning with a bogey and a par. Though he later switched to the shorter and less sinister Ocean Course, he knew his tournament was closing fast. The door then shut when he labored through the back nine (his front nine) in 39. He didn't score a birdie until his 29th hole of the competition, a 4-iron to within 12 feet to set up a deuce at the Ocean's 196-yard second. A 2-under-par rush during his final eight holes offered slight consolation.
"I played pretty solid today," Burda said. "A couple of three-putts and about five or six lipouts hurt on my front nine. "Yesterday's round put too much pressure. It's hard to come out and know you've got to shoot under par here."
Burda's fourth trip to the Amateur may have been his last. He admitted he wouldn't have tried this year but the delicious twosome — the Sectional Qualifier at Del Rio and the Amateur at Olympic — was too sweet to turn down. Burda impressed the younger generation two weeks ago when he romped to medalist honors at his home club (71-68).
Before it was over, Burda totaled 21 pars, 12 bogeys, one double bogey, two birdies and three caddies in San Francisco. Even Olympic Club member Fred Solomon, the director of the Scratch Players Championship last week at Del Rio, and Jeff's son Patrick took turns on the bag. Still, no alibis from Burda, who tied for 64th in both 1996 (Pumpkin Ridge) and '97 (Cog Hill) but lost in playoffs for match play. This time, he was younger than only Mike Bell (60), the 2006 U.S. Senior Amateur champion.
"I wasn't real sharp yesterday," Burda assessed. "I don't want to blame the fog delay. The weather happens a lot. It doesn't make it any easier. It's just a fact of tournament golf."
THE SHAG BAG — The large number of girls trying out for high school golf teams triggered an idea by Ken Miller, owner of McHenry Golf Center.
"Let's give the girls some advice about the swing, etiquette, rules and everything else," he said. "We'd like to get them going in the right direction so they'll learn the fundamentals." To that end, Miller's staff at the practice venue will offer free lessons, including range balls, for high school-aged girls on four of the next five Saturdays — this Saturday, Sept. 8, Sept. 15 and Sept. 22. Each session will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. To secure a reservation, call 523-5151. ... Last week's Scratch Players Championship produced scores comparable, if slightly higher, to the Canadian Tour event two years ago at Del Rio. Australia's Rick Kulacz won last week with a 72-hole score of 272, only one stroke higher than Canadian winner Stuart Anderson. The player who placed 32nd last week finished at 288, five higher than No. 32 in 2005. A caveat: The Scratch Players pin placements were set more difficult than the Canadian Tour, which sought birdies. ... Volunteers in scoring, marshaling, VIP hospitality and other departments are needed for the Longs Drugs Challenge, the LPGA Tour stop, Oct. 4-7 at Blackhawk CC in Danville. The perks for volunteers include gift cards, tickets, meals on days worked and an appreciation party.
Visit longsdrugschallenge.com or call 925-725-0148.
HOLES-IN-ONE — Matt Mensinger, 11, Modesto, 94-yard fifth at River Oaks, pitching wedge. ... Joe Cucinella, Ceres, 87-yard 16th at River Oaks, lob wedge.