Low scores, exciting playoffs have become the norm for the club’s biggest tournament
By Steve Breazeale
If there’s anything that the members and fans of the San Clemente Men’s Golf Club have come to expect from their annual Club Championship in recent years, it’s that low scores and sudden-death playoffs have become tradition.
The Club Championship is the group’s largest, most prestigious tournament of the year and the 43rd installment of it begins on June 21 and runs through June 23.
Members can elect to compete in both the gross-score or net-score division. The gross-score is where the club champion emerges from, given the straight up, stroke play format. The net club champion division features golfers playing to their individual handicap, which awards them strokes on certain holes.
It is the gross-score division that has provided the fireworks in recent years, according to the club’s Director at Large Rick Fleming.
As a past champion (1999) and long-standing board member, Fleming has seen an influx of talent and new equipment equate to very low scores, which has set up epic duels on the final day of competition.
“Once upon a time it used to be a little over or a little under par that would win it…It’s gotten to a point where six or eight under for the three days will do it. Even par doesn’t quite get it anymore,” Fleming said. “You can see the history there…A number of the years have come down to playoffs.”
Last year young-gun Van Johnstone IV, a former San Clemente High and Saddleback College golfer, caught up to the eventual winner Andy Horner on the back nine, forcing a two-hole playoff. Horner would seal the win on the par-5 11th hole.
In 2011, five-time champion and club legend John Adams was forced into a multiple-hole playoff in which he eventually prevailed to claim his record number of Club Championships.
Adams’ five wins are currently the benchmark for the Men’s Club Championship, but there are a few who are chasing him that will be in the mix this weekend.
Fleming expects three-time champion Scott Johannes (1991, 1994, 1995) to perform well, along with three-time winner Greg Schweitzer (2001, 2009, 2010).
“These guys are good. The guys who are going at the end of the day are very good players…they’re either former college players or those who have regained their amateur status,” said Dave Hamdorf, club vice president and tournament chairman.
The back nine at the San Clemente Municipal Golf Course is where the club champion can win or lose the title. Fleming recalled how the mini-gallery the tournament draws usually starts to swell as the players make their way into the canyons that traverse the final few holes. By the time the final group gets to the par-4 18th, the crowd and tension grows. On June 23, that same crowd will likely be there, and given the recent history of the event, they will be treated to same late fireworks.