Golf Plus: Eight local young amateurs to keep an eye on

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 8, 2014 - 9:02 pm

Putter over pads

Blake Abercrombie

• Age/school: 18; Rocklin High graduate

• Recently: Qualified at Haggin Oaks for the U.S. Public Links later this month in Kansas. He birdied the final hole to get into a playoff for the final qualifying spot, then advanced with a birdie on the first playoff hole. In June, Abercrombie won an American Junior Golf Association event in Oregon, parlaying a 9-under-par 63 in the first round to a three-shot win. “It was my best win in junior golf.”

• Ahead: Will attend San Diego State on a golf scholarship.

• Gridiron or greens? “I played football (linebacker) until my senior year. I picked up competitive golf late, so I’m kind of a late bloomer. There was a lot of pressure to keep playing football, but I knew I wanted to play golf in college. You can’t do both.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? Out-finesse. “I feel like your mental game in golf is more important than your power game.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. “I like getting to know my competitors a little bit.”

• Detail-oriented or big picture? “I’m detailed with my fundamentals, but sometimes you’ve got to step back from fundamentals and just play.”

• Pet peeve? “What-ifs, could-haves. I don’t like any of that.”

• Says Phil Dawson, Abercrombie’s coach: “Blake is an athlete. He’s the new wave of golfer. I remember the first lesson I gave him. I thought, ‘This kid is going to be a monster.’ 

When the going got tough …

Andrej Bevins

• Age/school: 19; University of New Mexico sophomore

• Recently: Qualified on Monday at Butte Creek in Chico for the U.S. Amateur in Georgia in August. His 36-hole total of 9-under-par 133 was five shots best in the field of 54 vying for two berths. He also qualified for the U.S. Public Links.

• Ahead: Two USGA events, then back to school.

• Steep learning curve: The Elk Grove resident, one of the nation’s top recruits out of Christian Brothers High School, played in 11 events during his freshman year at New Mexico. He had a win and four top-20 finishes but struggled late in the season and was left off the postseason traveling squad. “That kicked me in the butt. It propelled me to go out and really want to get better. That’s what I’ve done this summer. Spring was disappointing, but it was what I needed.”

• Back to the basics: Bevins has spent plenty of quality time the past few months with his coach, Don Levin. “I tried to figure out a way I could improve and got in a little over my head. I felt like I wasn’t playing too bad, but the scores were telling a different story. It was mostly mechanics, bad habits I’ve had all my life. I also learned I needed to work much harder to compete, especially on my short game.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? “To be a good golfer, everything has to be in order. You can pound the ball, but if you’re not a good chipper and putter, you’re not going to do anything.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. “Generally speaking, running your mouth doesn’t help.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Heart. “You need a chip on your shoulder to be a champion or the best golfer you can be. It’s not revenge, it’s just a heads-up on why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Junior achievement

Corey Eddings

• Age/school: 18; Oakmont High graduate

• Recently: Qualified for the U.S. Public Links. He was second Tuesday in the Northern California Golf Association Junior Championship at Spyglass.

• Ahead: Will attend Nevada on a golf scholarship. He had verbally committed to Nevada and stayed loyal when coaches of higher-profile programs came calling after he advanced to the round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Junior.

• Coming-out party: Eddings shot 67-74 at Martis Camp in Truckee to qualify as the sixth seed for match play at the 2013 U.S. Junior, then won two matches. “The whole image of me changed. Before that, I was a kid who was capable but was inconsistent. My perception of myself changed, too. The way I handled myself on the golf course was the best it’s ever been. I just believed I was a better player after that.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? Overpower. “My ball-striking is better than my short game.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. “I mostly just keep to myself when I’m competing.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Heart. “Just because I love the game so much.”

• If pro golf doesn’t work out? “I’m going to college for the education. I’m going to get a general business degree.”

• Says Connor Day, Eddings’ friend and caddie: “Corey is a strong-willed individual who performs well under pressure.”

Good driver discount

Emilee Hoffman

Age/school: 16; Vista del Lago High junior

• Recently: Qualified at Peach Tree for the U.S. Junior Girls later this month in Arizona. She made a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to shoot a par 72 and nab the final qualifying berth. “I kind of had an idea that par was what it was going to take, so I knew that putt was important.” She’ll be driving herself to the course after getting her license last week with a perfect score.

• Ahead: A two-time AJGA tournament winner, she will play AJGA events this month at Mayacama and Serrano ahead of the U.S. Junior Girls. The college recruiting process is heating up.

• Who wins, you or your dad? Jeff Hoffman shot a 70 at Peach Tree to qualify for the 2009 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “It’s honestly a toss-up each time we play. Hopefully, soon I’ll beat him more than he beats me. I was trying to beat the score he qualified with, though.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. “I’m talkative and friendly to my opponents. I’m just trying to have fun.”

• Detail-oriented or big picture? Detail. “I pay attention to the smaller details because if I don’t the big picture won’t come out like I want it to.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Brain. “I tend to really think about the shots and analyze them before I hit them.”

• Says Jeff Hoffman: “Her exposure to golf has given her a perspective on life that she might not otherwise have at her age.”

Talks a good

game, too

Alex Lee

• Age/school: 17; Rio Americano High senior

• Recently: Qualified at Yolo Fliers for the U.S. Junior later this month in Texas. He also qualified for the state high school championship and finished fourth in the NCGA Junior Championship.

• Ahead: Has verbally committed to accept a golf scholarship offer from Fresno State.

• Credit to coach: Lee has burst into prominence in the past year. “I’ve just recently gotten good. Phil Dawson, my coach since September, basically taught me how to practice with a purpose; how to get something done instead of just killing half the day. I’ve been grinding my heart out to get better.”

• Fun at his own expense: “I hit all of my growth spurts early. I’m pretty chunky right now (6-foot-1, 204 pounds). I’m football-sized, but if you saw me run, you would realize why I don’t play football. I’m aggressive for golf but not football.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? Overpower. “I could overpower a couple of courses. I’m not Cameron Champ long, but I hit far enough.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. “I’m always cracking jokes. I just love talking. I’ve been trying to tone it down some.”

• Detail-oriented or big picture? Big picture. “I set a lot of goals for myself. Now that I’ve committed to a Division I golf program, my next goal is making it to NCAAs.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Heart. “I just love golf. I’m addicted to it.”

A little Lexi

Hailey Rietz

• Age/school: 13; Katherine L. Albiani Middle School eighth-grader

• Recently: Qualified for the U.S. Kids Teen World Championship by winning both the 2013 U.S. Kids Sacramento Winter Tour and the 2014 U.S. Kids Sacramento Spring Tour; qualified with a 69 at Haggin Oaks for the Callaway Junior World Championship; was The First Tee of Greater Sacramento 2013 Player of the Year for girls ages 12-14.

• Ahead: The Junior World next week in San Diego and the U.S. Kids the week after in North Carolina.

• Best round: Her 69 at Haggin was 3 under par on a layout measuring 5,535 yards. Her handicap index is 2.8.

• Maybe it’s genetic: Hailey’s sister Sarah, 10, has also qualified for the Junior Worlds. Who was better at 10? “Sarah probably has me beat. I started playing golf when I was 10; she started when she was 6.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. “I don’t like to show a lot of emotion on the course. I’m not dramatic like that.”

• Told that swing resembles? Lexi Thompson – at least a miniature version at 5-foot-3, 105 pounds. “She talks about how she hops during her swing because she’s putting everything into it. I have a little hop in my swing as well. (My coach is) trying to keep me on the ground.”

• Pet peeves? “When people try to play games. ... When emotions get to the point that people are slamming clubs or yelling at themselves. ... Slow players. If you’re taking two minutes on every shot, that’s too slow.”

• If not golfing? “My whole life is really golf. I enjoy it so much. I like to sit down on the couch and watch TV with my sister.”

Fights to the finish

Josh Sedeno

• Age/school: 16; Del Oro High junior

• Recently: Qualified for the U.S. Junior. In April, he finished fourth in the Heather Farr Classic, a top-level AJGA event. Without AJGA status, he had to travel to Arizona to attempt to qualify for the tournament – he earned one of eight spots from among 108 players. “I took a big risk.” The result helped earn him a scholarship offer.

• Ahead: Has committed to SMU.

• Pressure is no problem: “I’ve found something over the years. The more pressure, the more I’ve been able to bear down and play better.” Some players wilt when they know college coaches are watching; Sedeno says he’s not one of them. “It seems like every time they were there, I played better. Other kids seemed to get nervous. I just focused on my routine.”

• Ebbs and flows: He was a drive, chip and putt champion at age 8, struggled at 13 and 14 because of poor mechanics and growth spurts, and is now at the top of his game. “My game was raw when I was little, and I took the time to get proper fundamentals. There are peaks and valleys in this game.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? “My strength is that I have a well-rounded game.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Introvert. “In tournaments, I’m pretty focused on what I’m doing.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Heart. “I’m going to fight to the end for me and my family. That’s how I was raised and how I’ve always approached golf.”

• Says Dave Sedeno , Josh’s father: “Josh doesn’t lose; he runs out of holes.”

A future Duck

Kelsey Ulep

• Age/school: 18; Whitney High graduate

• Recently: Won the Sacramento City Women’s Championship with a two-round total of 14-under-par 132 at Bing Maloney. “I was just going with the flow. At the end of the round, it was kind of scary and overwhelming how far under par I was.”

• Ahead: Will attend Oregon on a golf scholarship. “When I visited, I felt like I belonged. Being there, I feel I can become the best athlete I can possibly be.” As for the rain? “Not having perfect weather all the time is going to make me a better player.”

• More likely to overpower or out-finesse? Overpower. “I hit it a long way compared to most girls, and I have a huge advantage because of that.”

• Introvert or extrovert? Extrovert. “I’ve been told I look really mad when I play, but if you start talking to me, I will talk all day. I’m very bubbly.”

• Detail-oriented or big picture? Big picture. “When I try to analyze every little thing, I don’t play well. When I’m at my best, it’s target golf.”

• Driven more by your heart or brain? Heart. “Sometimes, I just have a gut feeling. I might try a risky shot just because I feel I can do it at that moment.”

• Says Tim Berg, Ulep’s coach: “Kelsey has a wonderful attitude. She’s laid back and relaxed and doesn’t get bothered by anything on the golf course.”

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