Learning to win golf tournaments is a process as old as the game.
Some good players take longer than others. Some never figure it out.
Ben Corfee has struggled to close the deal in some high-profile events over the years, but he gritted his way into the been-there-done-that category in the Memorial Amateur on Monday. The 22-year-old Davis resident earned the biggest win of his career with a closing 2-over-par 74 at Ancil Hoffman.
When you’re uncomfortable, get yourself comfortable. Breathing. Slowing down. Stepping away. Don’t hit the shot until your mind is right.
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Corfee started the final round four shots clear of his nearest pursuer and seven shots clear of third place. He managed his game and emotions to perfection to finish 54 holes at 12-under 204, five shots clear of Elk Grove’s Andrej Bevins (72). Chico’s Cole Chavez (67) tied for third with Sacramento’s Alex Lee (73), six shots behind, and Chico’s Tyler Collier (77) finished fifth, seven strokes behind.
At 18, Corfee led the 2012 Northern California Golf Association Amateur Stroke Play Championship entering the final round. He closed with an 81 to finish 10th. Earlier this month, the UC Davis junior shared the lead entering the final round of the Big West Conference tournament. He closed with a 77 to finish 12th.
He said the experience he gained from those times in contention – albeit confidence-rattling failures – helped get him over the hump.
“When you’re uncomfortable, get yourself comfortable,” he said, getting specific about the lessons he learned. “Breathing. Slowing down. Stepping away. Don’t hit the shot until your mind is right.”
Corfee led by six shots after Collier, who started the day in second, bogeyed his first two holes. He still led by six after he and Bevins birdied Nos. 10 and 11.
Things got interesting after Corfee bogeyed Nos. 12, 14 and 15 and his lead over Bevins was three with three holes to play. The margin could have been narrower had Bevins converted short birdie attempts on Nos. 13 and 15.
If I could have made a few putts, I would have had a chance.
After a wayward drive into the trees at the 15th hole, Scott Raber, Corfee’s caddie and longtime friend, provided some perspective.
“He said, ‘If a helicopter dropped you down right here, right now with a four-shot lead, you would be pretty happy,’ ” said Corfee, who responded with three closing pars to seal the deal.
Bevins, a junior at New Mexico, opened with nine pars before birdies on Nos. 10 and 11. He parred No. 12 when the rest of the contenders made bogey, but he couldn’t maintain the momentum. Ancil was playing at 7,000 yards, its longest configuration of the week, and tough hole locations made it difficult for anyone to make a charge.
“If I could have made a few putts, I would have had a chance,” Bevins said.
Corfee hit only three greens in regulation over his final 11 holes. After making 10 birdies Sunday, he didn’t have 10 birdie putts Monday, acknowledging his lack of accuracy was partly nerves-related.
He kept his head, though. He stuck to his game plan. He got his name on the trophy.
Steve Pajak: 916-326-5526.