Dave Sheff of San Marino has made his name in golf as a long-ball hitter. Sending Sheff to the tee with a driver in his hand is a lot like sending Reggie Jackson to the plate in the World Series. Crunch.
In 1971, playing for Arizona State, Sheff won the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. long-drive contest. Last year, the one-time touring pro who regained his amateur status in 1985, won his first Southern California Golf Assn. amateur championship by one stroke on the 6,411-yard Hillcrest Country Club course.
But if he expects to defend his title, Sheff, along with 83 other championship-flight golfers, will have to bag his driver for the 6,021-yard, par-70 Braemar Country Club East Course in Tarzana, where the SCGA Amateur will be played today through Sunday. With its fairways guarded by out-of-bounds, water and thick brush, and its greens surrounded by as many as five bunkers, Braemar rewards accuracy rather than distance. Irons from the tee will be the rule of the tournament.
"Braemar is one of those courses where you have to be real patient," Sheff said. "You can't go out there and pound the ball."
Even without his driver, the 38-year-old Sheff is the favorite to become the second straight player to win two consecutive SCGA titles. Brad Greer, now on the PGA Tour, won in 1984 and 1985.
Among Sheff's top challengers, however, are three of the players who finished a stroke behind him last year--Pat Duncan of Rancho Santa Fe, Buz Greene of Thousand Oaks and Dennis Iden of Costa Mesa.
Other contenders include UCLA senior Bobby Lasken of Whittier, medalist in last month's California Amateur, Oklahoma State bound Bobby May of La Habra, runner-up in last month's California Amateur, Jim Myers of Oceanside, current SCGA Tournament of Club Champions titleholder, Steve Bogan of Yorba Linda and Mitch Voges of Simi Valley.
The 84 championship-flight golfers, 64 of whom qualified at 10 Southern California sites Monday, will play 36 holes today, with the low 32 qualifying for 18-hole rounds Saturday and Sunday. Sheff was among the 20 golfers who were exempt from qualifying, based on performances in last year's SCGA Amateur, SCGA Mid-Amateur and California Amateur. Thirty-two golfers in each of three other flights begin play Saturday.
Play in the championship flight (0-4 handicap) will be at scratch. The three other flights--president's (5-8), vice president's (9-12) and secretary's (13-18) will use net scores.
Steve Miletich, SCGA president whose home course is Braemar, said that the short, tight course should put a number of players in the field in contention for the title.
"I think it will be more wide open than on a real long course," Miletich said. "With a course around 7,000 yards, naturally, the person who hits the long ball off the tee has the advantage, but the winner here will have to play the course rather than his ego."
Two players who make Braemar their home course, Don Baker and Craig Steinberg, will be in the championship flight. Miletich and Sheff agree that some home-course knowledge will make contenders of the pair, both of whom qualified Monday at South Hills Country Club.
While several players were trying to develop course knowledge of their own on a damp and overcast Thursday, Sheff turned in a two-under practice round on Tuesday.
"I feel good about the tournament," Sheff said. "I hit my long irons well. I'll just have to show a lot of patience."
With the toughest holes on the front nine at Braemar's East Course, Sheff is unlikely to face the harrowing finish he had last year when he dropped four strokes of his five-stroke lead on 16 and 17 but made par on 18 to win by a stroke. The final hole at Braemar is a 179-yard par-3 with large bunkers in front and to the right of the green, but the approach is a straightaway shot.
Golfers face their stiffest tests on the front side at Nos. 5 and 6, according to golf pro Mike Beveridge.
Out-of-bounds all the way to the hole on the right marks the 372-yard, par-4 fifth. To the left of the fairway, there's more out-of-bounds and a fairway bunker that comes into play for long hitters..
At the 425-yard, par-4 sixth, the tee shot must carry 175 yards to reach a level portion of the landing area, with hazards left and right.
Along with the frequent lateral hazards, Braemar features greens that are hard to read and a rolling layout with differences in elevation between tee and green.
Sheff said the key to the tournament will be which golfers can shoot birdies on the three par-5 holes--Nos. 7, 11 and 13. Lasken said the keys will be good putting and staying out of trouble.