A match for the ages: Rudolph and Travers advance to finals

Harry Rudolph, La Jolla

JUNE 25 — One is a hometown hero, a former amateur champion-turned-pro-turned-amateur gifted in the game. The other, the 2010 West Coast Conference player of the year with uncompromised focus and a drive to win. Tomorrow, the two will duke it out to determine the 99th California State Amateur champion at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club.
In a battle of experience, Harry Rudolph III, the No. 5 seed from La Jolla and 1991 California Amateur champion, defeated two-time SCGA Amateur champion and U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Kevin Marsh, 37, of Henderson, Nev., 1 up in the semifinal round.
In the battle of youth, Scott Travers, 22, of Trabuco Canyon, a golfer for Santa Clara who’s only played three match play events in his career, topped Grant Norton, 22, of Rancho Murieta, also an accomplished college player out of Sacramento State.
Rudolph advanced by way of dismissing 2010 Southwestern Amateur champion Estanislao Guerrero, 25, of San Diego, 5 and 3 this morning, while Travers defeated multiple NCGA champion Randy Haag, 51, of Burlingame, 3 and 2.
Rudolph has been the fan favorite of the event. More than 75 spectators — including family, casual friends, friends from elementary school, and others, walked behind the golfer as he and Marsh played what Rudolph called a “slugfest the entire time.”
Rudolph took an early lead in his semifinal match, quickly going 3 up thanks to a par-birdie-birdie string on the first three holes. As quickly as he did so, the tables turned, however, when Marsh, in the span of four holes, gained a 1-up lead, which he would increase to 2-up and maintain until the 15th hole. He stuck shot after shot, including the par-3 seventh hole, which he hit his tee shot to just over a foot for birdie (although Rudolph just missed a chip-in for birdie and collected par).
“Being 2 down with five holes to go, I was thinking, ‘Just keep going,” Rudolph later said.
He did, and in a major momentum shift, sunk a par putt on 14 that “was huge,” Rudolph noted. “There were two or three turning points in the match, and that was one of them. Making that putt gave me a boost.”
Marsh (who knocked out semi-finalist and No. 1 seed Scott Almquist of Coto de Caza this morning, 3 and 2) would bogey 14 and 15 to Rudolph’s pars, and after a bunker shot on 17 that was “a phenomenal bunker shot and the perfect timing,” the duo entered the 18th hole all square. Rudolph nailed a birdie putt, punctuated with a fist pump and roar of the crowd, that secured him the win.
“I feel great, no fatigue,” Rudolph said. “This match felt like a final, but 36 holes, that is what we play for.”
With his family walking alongside him, Travers has been the epitome of focus through each round, locked into a routine that’s included no caddie (although he may have one on the bag for the 36-hole finale), no push cart, and nothing new or different.
“He hasn’t wanted to mess with his routine at all,” said Travers’ mom, Barbara. “He’s been very intense and has shown little emotion out there, no matter what’s going on. We’ve probably been more nervous than he has.”
Travers never lost the lead in his match against Norton, who since the 12th hole of his morning round (where he defeated co-medalist Kevin Fitzgerald of Riverside, 3 and 1) played without a driver, thanks to a cracked driver face. Norton would have another driver delivered to him on the sixth hole during the semifinal, and although he’d gain a hole back to close the gap to two holes, he began to falter.
Travers, on the other hand, collected five birdies in the match, including a dramatic final putt on 15 that bounced around, stopped, then dropped in to close the match out.
“My goal was just to play solid and get through stroke play,” Travers said. “After that, each match play round is like a different tournament with a clean start.”
And what are his thoughts on playing Rudolph? “I can’t be focused on the other players,” he said, “I can only be focused on my own game.”
The 36-hole final round tees off at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, with the second 18 beginning at noon. Live scoring will be available.

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