Ron Agostini

Hard to forget Rassett's run

It seems 2007 has pointed us toward one question: What has happened to Turlock product Joey Rassett?

The NCAA Basketball Tournament Regional in Sacramento featured Oral Roberts, where Rassett earned All-American honors and nearly a national championship (1981).

The U.S. Amateur was conducted at San Francisco's hallowed Olympic Club, where Rassett was medalist at the Amateur ('81).

The U.S. Open was played at Oakmont, Pa., where Rassett co-led the '83 Open after 36 holes.

Finally, there is teenager Sam Smith, one of Turlock Country Club's most promising juniors since a precocious kid affectionately called "Little Jodie" used the property as his personal playground four decades ago.

Joey Rassett, 49, is doing fine, thank you, in one of those slices of golf heaven in Florida. He's director of golf at Longboat Key Resort, a full-service 45-hole golf getaway located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico just off the coast of Sarasota.

"There are not too many places I know that have the gulf on one side and Sarasota Bay on the other," Rassett said this week. "The sunsets aren't too bad."

We remember Rassett, of course, as merely the most accomplished player this portion of the valley has produced. He compiled a blue-ribbon résumé as an amateur and entered the PGA Tour with a trumpet fanfare:

He won the California state high school title as a Turlock High senior.

He reached the semifinals of the 1979 U.S. Amateur.

He qualified for the Masters as an amateur and slept in the Crow's Nest at Augusta National.

In 1981, he was low amateur at the U.S. Open at Merion and, at Cypress Point, he went 3-0 in his matches and led teammates Jay Sigel, Jodie Mudd and Corey Pavin to a victory in the Walker Cup.

He competed in one Masters, one British Open and seven U.S. Opens.

Rassett nearly won in his PGA Tour debut in Tucson. Fans yelled "Go, J.R.!" as his long, slow swing with his persimmon driver produced a power-fade that split the fairway. He had the smile, the swing and the game.

Sadly for him, however, the golf gods dictate their own agenda, and Rassett the pro didn't shine like Rassett the amateur. He never won on the Tour and, on the weekend of the '83 Open when the entire golf world was calling his name, he soon faded from view.

Rassett looks back with a few regrets.

"I was at least the king of my field for a day," he says. "I've been back to Oakmont a couple of times since then. They don't forget you. When I arrived, the caddiemaster said, 'Welcome back, Mr. Rassett.' It was nice to be remembered."

Rassett didn't hole enough putts -- a familiar story -- to succeed on the Tour. One day as he read his mail in his car, an out-of-control car slammed into his. He still feels the back injuries today. It's a tribute to his tenacity and skill that he tied for 11th in a Tour event in 1995, his final year on golf's big stage.

"The toughest part is to admit that you could have done better," Rassett said. "To me, the brass ring was getting to the Tour, but I didn't set a goal after that."

Since his playing days ended, Rassett has served as the director of golf at the exclusive Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla., (1996-2001); The Ridge at Back Brook in Ringoes, N.J., (2003-05); and Longboat Key beginning last year. He and wife Susan live in Bradenton, Fla., where they're kept busy with soccer-playing daughter Lauren (17) and hockey-playing son J.D. (15).

Rassett hasn't exactly locked his clubs in the closet. He turns 50 next July and, like other pros who reach the half-century birthday, he's tempted by the Champions Tour.

"I'm thinking about it," he said. "I can still find it."

HOLES-IN-ONE -- Stan Borja, Modesto, 140-yard eighth at Modesto Municipal, 8-iron. ... Terry Henheres, Oakdale, 172-yard eighth at Creekside, 6-iron. ... Derrick Jarvis, Hilmar, 148-yard fourth at Stevinson Ranch, 9-iron. ... Keith Brewer, Oakdale, 111-yard ninth at River Oaks, Ceres, pitching wedge. ... Donald Flora, Hughson, ninth at River Oaks, pitching wedge. ... Mike Cook, Sonora, 157-yard fifth at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 7-iron (Cook is the Mountain Springs head pro).

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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