Golf : Meeks Puts 1-Stroke Jinx to Rest With U.S. Amateur Win

Eric Meeks has always been one shot off the mark.

Four times he has missed qualifying for the U.S. Amateur golf tournament--always by one stroke. On his fifth try, he qualified handily, but missed taking the medalist honors by, that's right, one stroke.

So when Meeks won the 1988 U.S. Amateur title last month on a course that looks as if it was cut out of a forest, he put to rest his one-stroke jinx, claiming the match-play championship, 7-6.

"We do have a problem in our family with that one stroke," said Bob Meeks, Eric's father. "Three years ago, Eric's brother Aaron qualified for the U.S. Amateur, but missed qualifying for match play by one stroke. Mentally it can hurt you."

But so far, it hasn't hurt Eric. Or Aaron. The 23-year-old identical twins even have identical golf games. Aaron, who turned professional last month, helped Eric prepare for the U.S. Amateur by playing four matches with him. They split.

"You can't tell the difference between them," says Bob Meeks. "Perhaps Aaron is more outgoing than Eric. But when Eric leaves a green, you can't tell by looking at him whether he's eagled the hole or double-bogeyed it. He keeps it all in."

The pride of Walnut, Eric Meeks made off with the U.S. Amateur title by winning six straight matches at Cascades Golf Course in Hot Springs, Va. He ended the grueling week by beating Danny Yates of Atlanta in the 36-hole final.

"I shot 65 in the morning and even par (70) in the afternoon, so I was 5 under for the day," Meeks said. "I won the first four holes and Yates came back and birdied the next three so I was 1 up after nine, but it was a tight match. Then he started making a few mistakes and I played solid coming in, so I was 4 up after 18 and then won the first six holes in the afternoon. I had 10 up with 12 to go and that was pretty much it for him."

Meeks, who excels around the greens, said his game was particularly suited to Cascades. "It's a nice course. Hilly, lot of trees, fast greens and a lot of rough," he said.

The Meeks made up 40% of the University of Arizona's golf team the last four years. Eric graduated this year with a degree in sociology and political science but hopes to become a professional golfer after playing as an amateur in the 1989 Masters and U.S. Open tournaments. As the amateur champion, he gets an exemption for both. He said he may even delay his pro debut a little longer if he is named to the United States' Walker Cup team.

At the Masters, he will play the first two rounds with defending champion Sandy Lyle, and at the U.S. Open he will play the first two rounds with defending champion Curtis Strange and British Open winner Seve Ballesteros.

When he does turn pro, it apparently will not be with accompanying verbal thunder. "It takes a little bit of luck," Meeks said. "To win a big tournament like this, well, a lot of players could win it. And then when you win it, well, sometimes it's just your time."

Meeks left Friday for Sweden, where he and the four other top U.S. amateurs, will represent the United States in the World Cup later this month.

The Southern California golf community lost a little of its soul Aug. 10, when Mortie Dutra died in his sleep in an Arcadia nursing home. He was 89.

Dutra, the National PGA Senior and World Seniors Champion in 1955, also won the Southern California PGA Senior title three straight years, from 1952-1955. He served as head professional at Hillcrest Country club for 10 years, and as a resident teaching pro at several Southern California country clubs for nearly50.

Dutra's brother, Olin, won two major championships--the U.S. Open in 1934, and the PGA Championship in 1932. They are the only brothers to have each won medalist honors in the National PGA Match Play Championship--Olin in 1932, and Mortie in 1933. Together, they won 32 titles from 1922 through 1955. Olin died in 1983.

In this season of golf parity on the PGA Tour, the $2-million Nabisco tournament will determine the 1988 money leader. The tournament, to be held Nov. 10-13 at Pebble Beach, will officially end the money season.

Only the top 30 money winners after the Tucson Open (Nov. 3-6) are eligible. The winner's prize? $360,000.

In contention for the top spot, in a race that has seen the top spot change for three straight weeks, are Chip Beck with $691,012; Joey Sindelar with $688,062, Sandy Lyle with $653,334, Curtis Strange with $603,704, and Ben Crenshaw with $603,575.

Bob Charles, who has four victories and as many second-place finishes in his last 12 tournaments, leads the Senior PGA Tour with $407,591. Gary Player is second with $401,884 and Orville Moody third at $375,515.

Golf Notes

The Los Angeles City Senior Golf Championships and Handicap Tournament is scheduled for Oct. 13-14 at the Wilson and Harding courses at Griffith Park. . . . The UCLA women's golf team has been selected to compete in the USA-Japan Friendship tournament in Fukushima, Japan, Sept. 20-21. The Bruins, who finished 12th nationally last season, were selected along with the University of Arizona, last season's national champion.

Country music star Mickey Gilley will be the host at the sixth annual Academy of Country Music Celebrity Golf Tournament Oct. 17 at the De Bell course in Burbank. Proceeds will go to the T. J. Martell Foundation for cancer and leukemia research. . . . The San Buenaventura Pro-Am tournament, which benefits the Special Olympics, will be held Oct. 13-14 at the Buenaventura and Olivas Park courses in Ventura. . . . George Stewart of Encino scored his fourth hole-in-one during the Woodley Lakes men's tournament when he aced the 230-yard third hole with his driver.

The Santa Monica Police Officers Assn. Celebrity tournament, to benefit the Special Olympics, will be held Oct. 3 at Porter Valley Country Club in Northridge. . . . A group of Dallas businessmen trying to make it possible for avid golfers, like themselves, to play dream courses at reduced rates have formed "The Country Club Golf Assn." It offers packages to courses such as Pebble Beach, Doral, and La Costa by scheduling around peak times. For details, call (214) 931-6026.

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