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Van Nuys’ Steinberg Values Foresight as Top Amateur Golfer

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Harking back to his days as a player at USC, Craig Steinberg tried to imagine what would have happened had he started an important tournament by bogeying 8 of the first 11 holes.

“It would have been all over,” he said. “I would have given up.”

Steinberg, 30, long ago learned the hard way that blowing one’s cool usually means inflated numbers on the score card. So when Steinberg, a Van Nuys optometrist, started slowly in the first round of medal play in the U. S. Mid-Amateur golf championship last week at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., he decided to grind it out--the same way they grind lenses back at the office. Well, with perhaps a touch less precision.

In the Mid-Amateur format, competitors play 36 holes of stroke play before a cut is made. Those who make the cut advance to match play.

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“I figured that if I could shoot 152 I’d qualify,” he said. “After the way I started, I just had to forget about it and play from that point on. Just try to hit one green at a time.”

He did it well enough to finish with a 6-over-par 76 and a second-round 74, despite playing in wind and rain. He advanced to the second portion of the tournament, which features the nation’s best amateurs aged 25 or older.

The first day, he became more than a little familiar with “prairie grass as high as your waist” and “sand dunes all over the course.” Yet his ability to keep things in perspective, he said, allowed him to keep his composure. The payoff--as it had all year long in what Steinberg called the best play of his career--was soon to follow.

“I wasn’t hitting anything solid,” he said. “But I got better every day I was there.”

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Steinberg advanced to the semifinals before he was eliminated by a red-hot Scott Mayre of Bermuda, but the loss hardly dampened a great season for Steinberg.

His streak began last fall when he advanced to the semifinals of the Mid-Amateur. Over the next 12 months, the doctor pulled some nice shots out of his black bag. Some of his feats were eye-popping, indeed:

December, 1987: After winning the club championship at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, Steinberg finished fourth in the Champion of Champions tournament at Desert Island Country Club in Palm Springs. The one-day event featured club champions from throughout Southern California.

April: Steinberg fired a final-round 69 at Rancho Park for a 2-shot victory in the Southern California Publinx Championship, held at 4 Los Angeles-area public courses.

June: With rounds of 72, 74 and 71 at Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach, respectively, Steinberg finished second at 217 in the medal-play portion of the California Amateur in Monterey. He advanced to the quarterfinals of match play.

July: In a field of 80, Steinberg closed with a 1-under-par 60 at Annandale Country Club in Pasadena to win the Southern California Amateur with a 4-round total of 286. He is featured on the cover of Fore magazine, a publication of the Southern California Golf Assn.

August: In a field of 292 of the nation’s best amateurs, Steinberg finished 19th in medal play with a 2-round score of 145 (73-72) at Cascades Golf Course in Hot Springs, Va. He was defeated in the first round of match play, however, by John Harris of Edina, Minn.

October: Steinberg played the first 11 holes of medal play 8-over but recovered with a 74 in the second round to advance to match play of the Mid-Amateur. He won 4 matches, including a defeat of Harris, before falling to Mayre, 2 and 1, in the semifinals last Wednesday. It took a sterling round by Mayre--who birdied 4 of the first 7 holes to go 4 up, to eliminate Steinberg. “I was even for 17 holes,” Steinberg said. “I’m not capable of playing any better than that.” By advancing to the semifinal round, Steinberg earned an exemption for next year’s Mid-Amateur at Crooked Stick Country Club in Indianapolis.

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While 1987-88 marked the best competitive year of his life, Steinberg said he still has an unfulfilled objective--to make the U. S. Walker Cup team.

“I’m happy with the way I played, but I’m still about five-tenths short of my real goal.”

While Steinberg will not qualify for the biennial competition, which will be held in Atlanta in August, he feels he is on the right track.

“I’ve always felt that golfers play their best while in their 30s,” he said. “Look at Nicklaus, Watson, players like that. They were all at their peak at that age.”

Like Steinberg, they reached it by moderating the peaks and valleys of emotion.


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