SCGA Amateur Championship: Patel conquers Big Canyon

NEWPORT BEACH — For a guy who never played Big Canyon Country Club before this week, Bhavik Patel sure made the 113th Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur Championship look easy.

The 21-year-old Bakersfield resident capped an impressive three days of golf with his fourth straight under-par round to finish the championship at nine-under (71-71-67-70—279), an eight-shot victory over Xander Schauffele of San Diego (68-71-74-74—287). Patel was solid as a house built on rock, with no bogeys in his final two rounds. He and Schauffele (one-under) were the only two players to finish the 72-hole event under par.

Three-time SCGA Amateur champion Scott McGihon finished third at one-over (74-74-70-71—289). Stewart Hagestad, a Big Canyon member who entered the final-round three shots off Patel's lead at four-under, tied for fourth at two-over (70-73-69-78—290) with Kevin Fitzgerald of Riverside (71-74-73-72—290). Costa Mesa resident Jake Knapp, an incoming UCLA freshman who starred at Estancia High, overcame an opening-round 78 to place sixth at three-over (78-72-71-70—291). Knapp tied Patel for the lowest final-round score.

"I wish I could have given [Patel] a run on the back nine," Hagestad said. "I played really well and I hit it really well. I just didn't hit it where I was supposed to. I had good tempo and rhythm. It is a tough golf course. When the greens are firm and fast and the wind pops up a little after you've played golf a whole bunch of times for three days in a big field in a big tournament like this is, your nerves might begin to fray a little bit. All credit to Bhavik. Even if he was playing for fun, that is such a great round."

Patel, the 2011 California Amateur champion and a prior United States Amateur semifinalist, took the lead for good on the 14th hole Saturday and played with Hagestad in the final group Sunday. Patel parred his way through the front nine, while Hagestad dropped two shots with a double-bogey on the par-three third.

On the par-four 10th, Hagestad hit his drive into the right fairway bunker. His approach landed in the left rough above a greenside bunker, which left a downhill chip. Hagestad hit a flop shot to seven feet, but missed the par putt.

Patel made his first of two birdies on the 414-yard par-four 11th hole. He drove in the fairway and his second shot settled atop a slight ridge on the green. He then sank the 12-foot birdie putt to go eight-under and take a seven-shot lead on Hagestad.

Both players hit their drives onto the back fringe on the 202-yard par-three 12th. Hagestad putted his second shot to seven feet, but missed the ensuing par putt. Patel chipped his second shot to 2 ½ feet and made the par putt to stay eight-under while Hagestad dropped to even.

Patel also birdied the 377-yard par-four 14th. His drive landed in the fairway and his approach shot stopped two feet from the hole, making the birdie that much easier.

Patel was masterful around the greens on the back nine. On the par-five 16th, his third shot landed on the right fringe, but his chip rolled with the right-to-left slope and settled one foot from the cup. On the par-four 17th, his second shot landed in the rough left of the green. With 10 feet of green to work with, Patel chipped to three feet and made the putt.

Patel said he hit his irons as good if not better than his driver off the tee and tried to stay conservative.

"The greens were so hard," Patel said. "It was hard to spin sand wedges out there. The main thing was being conservative all week. I figure a two-iron [off the tee] can't get me into too much trouble."

Hagestad said he and Patel played together in the Los Angeles City Championship during high school and they've occasionally seen each other at the U.S. Amateur. Hagestad will now prepare for the U.S. Amateur next month at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

"[Patel] doesn't make mistakes and if he does, they are mistakes he can recover from," Hagestad said. "He knows what he has to do to get the ball in the hole. It is referred to as boring, hit the fairway, hit the green, have a 12-, 15-, 20-foot [putt] drop in here and there. He put it in spots where you need to be and if you miss the green like he did on 12, like he did on 16, he put himself in a position where he could get up and down. All credit to him. He played great."

"It's special," Patel said of the SCGA Amateur victory. "I prepared harder and longer [for the event]. I was going over the names [that won the tournament], it is just a treat."

Those names include Tiger Woods, Charlie Wi, Paul Stankowski and last year's champ Patrick Cantlay.

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