When Rocklin’s Blake Abercrombie looks back on his victory in the 2017 California State Fair Men’s Amateur, it won’t be his first-round 66 or his second-round 64 he’ll remember most.
It won’t be the sizzling temperatures over the weekend. It won’t even be the three birdies in a row he made to close his final-round 70 on Monday for a two-shot win over Isaiah Salinda in the tradition-rich tournament.
It will be his unlikely par on the 14th hole at Haggin Oaks. The hole that took two rulings. The par-3 that took 30 minutes to complete and got Abercrombie thinking he might miss his sister’s wedding despite the promise he made the day before.
“Huge,” he called it.
After Salinda birdied No. 13 to tie for the lead, Abercrombie pulled his tee shot into the trees left of the 14th green. His ball came to rest on hardpan an inch from the base of an oak tree and on the wrong side for a right-handed player. It appeared Abercrombie’s only option was some sort of left-handed swipe to the hole 35 yards away.
There was what appeared to be a burrowing animal hole 6-8 inches in front of the ball, pointed out by Phil Dawson, Abercrombie’s golf mentor and caddie for the day. A rules official was called. He ruled against free relief but suggested a second opinion could be sought.
As rules chairman John Nakamura made his way from the clubhouse, that’s when Abercrombie really began to sweat. Alexandra, the oldest of his four sisters, was getting married at 5 p.m. in Nevada City and time wasn’t in his favor. He considered withdrawing after the second round even after forging a two-shot lead.
“I talked it over with my sister (Sunday) after my round,” he said. “Family first, right? I made sure she was OK with my getting there in time for the ceremony. When the ruling was going on, and then John was called from the clubhouse, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness.’ ”
Nakamura ruled in favor of a drop. Salinda, who had bogeyed the hole from a greenside bunker while Abercrombie awaited his ruling, shook his head after taking a look for himself.
“I thought it was questionable,” Salinda said of ruling after the round. “But I’ve been in situations where I’ve used the rules to my benefit. I wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it.
“Credit to Blake for birdieing the last three.”
After the drop, Abercrombie chipped to within 12 feet of the hole and drained the par putt.
“To be honest, I don’t know the rules very well,” he said. “I’ve only been playing competitively for four or five years, but when Phil said that, it totally made sense to me.”
A par on No. 15 followed by birdies on Nos. 16, 17 and 18, and his name was on the trophy. His three-round score of 16-under 200 was one stroke off the tournament record. He heads back to San Diego State for his senior season with a big addition to his golf résumé.
He made it to the wedding on time, too.
“I just went for it,” Abercrombie said of his strategy down stretch. “I played to win.”
Salinda, a Stanford junior, closed with two birdies and a 69. Bradley Knox (67) and Devondeep Bling (70) tied for third.
▪ USF’s Vanessa Ha won the State Fair women’s title at Bartley Cavanaugh with a two-round total of 7-under 135
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526