James Burns: Tough conditions on a challenging course lead to frustration for local golf hot shots

May 14, 2009 

Burns, James

James Burns, sports editor

STOCKTON -- Bobby Park is too nice of a guy to complain or lash out against the establishment.

And don't expect Griffin Kelley to say something out of bounds.

Golf, after all, is the gentleman's game -- and these two keep their spikes planted in the Rules of Golf Etiquette handbook.

At all times.

They are...

Well-dressed.

Well-mannered.

Soft spoken.

And critical only of themselves.

But for once, you wish golf were a little more Jack Bauer than Jack Nicklaus.

Because Monday would have been an ideal time to twist an ear. Or a club.

Both golfers made the long trip home from north Stockton empty-handed on Monday evening, their seasons left in ruins in the rear-view mirror, too wind-blown and scattered to piece back together.

Among the shattered golf dreams also rested those of Sam Smith -- the Turlock dynamo picked to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament.

He, too, accepted the fate handed down by the golf gods at The Reserve at Spanos Park.

The gods weren't to blame. Mother Nature and a peculiar start time were.

"The winds were pretty strong, but everyone had to play in it," Park said. "You have to deal with it."

Do you?

Was I the only person who saw that 1:30 p.m. shotgun start and thought it was a joke?

Anyone who plays The Reserve with much regularity knows the dangers of playing a mid-afternoon round.

It's like Stevinson Ranch on steroids.

The Delta breeze grows teeth after lunch, with gusts strong enough to turn a competitive round of golf into a blooper reel.

There were crooked numbers everywhere.

Fifty-eight golfers grinded out scores in the 80s -- which may have been the most impressive stat next to the 75 posted by medalist Daniel Covrig of Johansen.

Thirty-three more landed in the 90s. And nine -- yes, nine -- eclipsed the century mark.

"The section is talking about making The Reserve a permanent stay for the Masters. I really think the section needs to relook at that idea," Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. "To start at 1 in the afternoon on a course right next to the Delta ... you're going to get wind.

"The three or four guys who move on, they threw up some good scores. When you talk about 75 or 76, that's awesome. But if you go and look at all the scores, 85-90 percent shot 85 or higher.

"For a Masters event, I don't know if that's what you're looking for."

Let's be clear: The Sac-Joaquin Section bears no fault in what transpired Monday afternoon.

The blue shirts have found a suitable home for its boys and girls championships.

The Reserve plays long with traps and snares around every corner, and the pin locations on Monday forced golfers to hit with precision and control.

The course was set up to showcase the Parks, Kelleys and Smiths of the Valley golf circuit.

As it should.

But an afternoon start -- hand-picked by Kennedy's David Parsh, the tournament director -- ruined it, making the Valley's top junior golfers look like...

Me.

"At this stage of the playoffs, you want to see the course setup as tough as possible," Caropreso said. "But you want the kids to be able to put on a show."

Instead, most of Monday's round looked like a Charles Barkley mixtape.

The winds whipped and swirled, pushing balls into unplayable lies.

Whitecaps formed on the lake in front of the country club.

And, I swear, I saw a Dorothy and Toto doing donuts in a wood shack high above the 14th green.

To spin a local angle, Park and Kelley landed more water balls than birdies.

The purists might say, "Oh, that's just golf. Everyone had to play in it."

True.

But the fact remains: If the Masters Tournament is about putting your very best swings on display, why were they forced to play in a wind tunnel?

Why not start the round at 9 when the conditions are at least bearable?

That would have been the gentlemanly thing to do.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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