The better you get, the steeper the learning curve. So goes golf these days for Erick Justesen.
We remember his All-American career at Cal State Stanislaus, a run ended a year ago when he fell one stroke short of an NCAA Division II title. Since then, he's, well, paying dues. All young pros, at least the ones not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, pay dues.
Justesen arrived in Modesto just in time Monday to compete in U.S. Open Local Qualifying at Del Rio Country Club. He wasn't among the top six to advance to the Sectional — a good start downsized to a 71 — but that wasn't the golf that will stick in his memory bank.
The ex-Warrior appeared in his first Nationwide Tour event, the BMW Charity Pro-Am, last week in South Carolina. Though he shot 5 under par, he missed the 36-hole cut by two.
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"I've been working on a few things and having some swing problems," Justesen said. "My short game has been keeping me under par."
Justesen plans to flipflop between the Canadian and Nationwide tours this year. He gained conditional status on the Nationwide, the circuit one step below the PGA Tour, by reaching the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament Finals last year.
The Finals, the six-round torture chamber at PGA West, resulted in more growing pain for Justesen. He opened the tournament with three pars, followed by six straight birdies and a shortlived lead.
"It was culture shock. TV cameras started to show up," he said. "It was like somebody gave me a shot of adrenaline to the heart. I was shaking over golf shots."
An opening 67 gave way five days later to a 115th-place finish ("I got lapped"), but Justesen didn't mind. He needed to feel a new kind of pressure, the kind all accomplished players eventually conquer.
"It was a lot of fun and I'm glad it happened because I'll be ready for it the next time," he said.
Justesen hopes to enter 10 to 15 Nationwide tournaments this year.
OPEN LOCAL QUALIFYING — Ceres' Ryan Thornberry, making his third attempt at the U.S. Open, was second alternate at Del Rio after his 71. His closing birdie at the 455-yard ninth (Oak), produced by an 8-iron to two feet, left him one agonizing stroke shy of a playoff for one of the six berths to the Sectional. "Played bad but scored OK," he assessed.
Kenny (Yun-Gi) Kim of Cerritos, a former UC Irvine star, was medalist at Del Rio at 5-under 67. The runner-up at 69 was Stockton's J.T. Kohut, a former UCLA player who missed the cut at three PGA Tour events last year. Others advancing to the Sectional, all at 70, were Alex Johnson of Tucson, Ariz., Keith Huber of Fresno, Russell Humphrey of Lodi and Derek Ernst of Clovis.
Stanislaus coach John Cook, who placed second at Local Qualifying at Ruby Hill in Pleasanton last week, will go to the Sectional on June 8 at Saticoy CC. He's coaching his team this week at the NCAA Division II Championships near Seattle.
THE SHAG BAG — Jeff Burda of Modesto shot 61-67 at Ancil Hoffman in Carmichael to win the Sacramento County Senior Championship, a major points event for Northern California Golf Association seniors. ... Kyle Souza of Livermore topped a field of about 60 with rounds of 70 and 69 to win the 33rd Manteca City Stroke Play title. Modesto's Ted Martinez, the first-day leader after a 68 in 104-degree heat, tied for fifth. A conversation topic was 13-year-old Cassie Cathrea of Livermore after her 69-75 from the same tees as the men. ...
A fundraising tournament for Madison Magee, a 6-year-old from Modesto who's been diagnosed with a brain tumor, will be June 6 at Stevinson Ranch. All proceeds will help the family with medical expenses. The cost is $125 per player. Call Erin Lopes, 564-6851, or Jennifer Swiger, 201-1976.
HOLES-IN-ONE — Owen Kummerce, Modesto, 142-yard second at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 6-iron. ... Barry Camara, Livermore, 123-yard third at Jack Tone, 3-hybrid. ... Barbi Marsden, Copperopolis, 105-yard 11th at Saddle Creek, Copperopolis, 4-iron. ... Norman Gomes, Dublin, 148-yard fourth at Stevinson Ranch, 8-iron. ... Ken Moren, Patterson, 111-yard 13th at Jack Tone, sand wedge.
Bee sports writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.