Santa Ana drops to last again

NEWPORT BEACH — Geoff Cochrane's golf ball was easy to identify Tuesday at the 12th annual Jones Cup.

Cochrane, the Santa Ana Country Club head professional, played with a neon yellow ball made by Trixon. It may look like a ball someone would use while playing miniature golf, but Cochrane is a convert.

"It's something unique," he said. "I feel like I see it really good, putting in particular, as strange as that sounds. I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to white, as long as they keep making it."

The goal in recent years has been to make Santa Ana stand out too, considering it is the only one of the four local private clubs never to have won the annual tournament.

That remains true, as Santa Ana finished last Tuesday at Big Canyon Country Club after carding a team round of two-over par in the two best-ball format. The hosts won the tournament for a record seventh time.

Cochrane, playing in his ninth straight Jones Cup, said he relishes the opportunity to play with Santa Ana Country Club members in the team format. But failing to win year after year – this is the third straight year Santa Ana has finished in last place – can leave a bitter aftertaste.

"I still enjoy [the tournament] every time," Cochrane said. "But yeah, it would absolutely mean a lot to me [to win]. And yes, it's wearing on me that we haven't."

Santa Ana was in second place until the final hole, which was No. 9 since the teams played the back nine first. But on that last hole, two Santa Ana players hit their ball out of bounds. The other three found the water to the front and right of the hole.

Men's club champion John Gilchrist did his teammates one better. He found the wet stuff a second time after watching his shot careen off the flag and bounce to the right, into the water.

"We were celebrating," Gilchrist said. "We thought it was a foot away from the hole. And then it was in the water."

No Santa Ana player – also including assistant pro Nick Kumpis, senior champion Bob Veeh and women's champion Liz Slater – got better than a double-bogey on the par-four No. 9. Santa Ana dropped to last place again.

"If we made a par and a bogey, we would have finished second, and we ended up making two [double-bogeys]," Gilchrist said. "That's the way it goes. There's bigger problems in the world."

Regarding the course, the problem Santa Ana players cited was the firm and fast greens. It made it tough on Santa Ana, which got off to a slow start after counting two bogeys at hole No. 12. Estancia High seniors-to-be Eddie Chervony and Scott Wagner, who were handling the scoreboard for the Santa Ana group, asked Cochrane what the team score was and he told them the bad news.

Still, Santa Ana followed that right up as Cochrane and Veeh birdied No. 13. This time Cochrane was happy to tell the Estancia students about the birdies that sent Santa Ana back to even-par.

Santa Ana was also even-par when Kumpis and Cochrane both birdied No. 4, sending Santa Ana into the red for the first time all day. But there were no more birdies to be found in the final five holes.

Cochrane had three birdies on his round, and Gilchrist had back-to-back birdies on No. 16 and No. 17. But Santa Ana did not take advantage on those holes; there was no net gain since no other player could make par.

"In this format, you've got to get three or four people on the green in regulation so you have birdie putts," Cochrane said. "When you have one on the green in regulation and everyone else is trying to fight their way to a par, that makes it pretty challenging."

Veeh also had a pair of birdies and Slater helped out with several pars. She almost had a birdie herself on the par-three No. 7, nearly chipping in her ball from in front of the green.

She kept things in perspective after the round.

"It's fun for me to represent Santa Ana," Slater said. "This is the third time I've played in it, and it's always fun. I guess there is pressure. Sometimes I think we try so hard because we've never won before – try too hard maybe. We were close [three years ago] at Newport, and some stinker made an eagle I think.

"Thank goodness it's just golf."

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