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Teen Queen of the Greens : Sherman Oaks’ Emilee Klein, 14, Becomes Youngest Player to Capture the Women’s State Amateur Golf Championship

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Had wagering been allowed in the final of the California Amateur Golf Championships, the odds of Emilee Klein beating Dr. Mary Budke would have been roughly the same as the odds of anyone other than Chick Hearn actually using the name Great Western Forum.

For starters, Klein is 14 years old. Fourteen years is the average age of a pair of golf shoes at a municipal course. The youngster from Sherman Oaks had played poorly heading into the state tournament and admitted that at times she was so nervous she thought she might be sick.

Budke, on the other hand, is an emergency-room physician at Granada Hills Community Hospital. A 6-foot putt just doesn’t faze you after you’ve plugged a few dozen bullet wounds or restarted a few hearts.

There is more to Budke, however, than her calm and collected demeanor. She is also a very talented golfer, enough so to have won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1972, 2 years before Klein was born.

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On paper, the confrontation was a mismatch. Fortunately for Klein, the state championship was played at Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club, which consists of no paper but a lot of grass. And sand.

And Sunday, the freshman at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks stunned Budke and longtime golf observers by beating the good doctor on the 18th hole to become the youngest person to win the women’s state amateur event.

Klein did it by chipping from heavy rough to within 18 inches of the flag on the par-4 18th hole, then dropping the putt into the middle of the cup. Budke bogeyed the final hole after putting her second shot into a green-side trap.

“It was just a foot-and-a-half putt,” Klein said, “but it looked like 30 feet to me. I stood over it and all I could think was, ‘What if I miss this?’ I was so nervous. I felt so nauseous I thought I was going to throw up.”

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Klein has won more than 3 dozen tournaments since she first thrashed her way around the Braemar Country Club course in Tarzana at age 9, including the Los Angeles City Championship last August. But in November, her game went into a woeful slide.

“I thought the state tournament might be embarrassing for me,” she said.

She struggled to a victory in her opening match, then faced Patty Hurst of San Jose State, the tournament’s top qualifier and the 1986 U.S. Women’s Junior Champion.

“I didn’t really think I could beat her,” Klein said. “But when I did, then I knew I had a chance to win the tournament.”

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It was not easy. She was pressed in every match, forced to play either 17 or 18 holes in each round before sealing the victory. And after 17 holes against Budke in the final, the match was even.

“On 18, I hit a great drive. Emilee didn’t hit a good drive at all,” said Budke, who lives in South Pasadena. “But then she hit a beautiful wood shot that carried just off the fringe of the green. I hadn’t played that hole all week because I had won all of my matches before getting there, so I was a bit confused. I picked the wrong club and knocked my second shot into the trap and bogeyed.

“Emilee got up and down from the fringe. She deserved to win.”

Budke, 35, captured the Oregon State Junior Championship when she was 15 and won the Oregon Amateur Championship at age 16. Playing against Klein brought back memories, she said.

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“It seemed strange at first to be playing a girl so young, but she acts very mature on the golf course,” Budke said. “She plays the game with great maturity. I knew that she was only 14, but I was not reminded of it during the round. I think, more than anything else, that she reminded me of when I was that young.”

Klein will leave Christmas Day to play in the Orange Bowl Classic (Dec. 27-30), a prestigious invitational tournament in Coral Gables, Fla.


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