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Former Bruin Tries to Finish Amateur Career on the Upswing


WESTWOOD — Debbi Koyama sees the end as a beginning.

Beginning on Monday, Koyama will play in the U.S. Women's Amateur golf championship at San Diego, the final tournament of Koyama's successful amateur career. Later this month, Koyama will attend the LPGA qualifying school in Florida, where she hopes to take the first step toward earning a tour card and beginning a professional career.

Koyama, a 25-year-old Monrovia resident, has already proven that she can compete with the pros. Last month, she was the low amateur in the U.S. Women's Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind. She finished tied for 26th, 11 shots behind champion Laurie Merten, a showing that would have earned her $6,894 had she been a pro.

"Everyone in junior golf grew up wanting to be a professional, but that was not my intention when I went to college," said Koyama, who played on UCLA's 1991 NCAA championship team. "But after going to college and playing the way I have this last year or so, I thought I should give (the pro tour) a chance.

"Also, my father had a stroke recently. After something like that happens, you start seeing things in a different light. I'm more aware of what's happening with our family. (From a financial standpoint) I don't think it would be best to stay amateur."

Koyama, a member of the North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village, wants to relinquish her amateur status with a flourish. She has competed in the U.S. Amateur several times, but her highest finish was a quarterfinal appearance in 1987.

"I feel like I have achieved most of my goals except for one--winning this tournament," said Koyama, who was captain of the boys' golf team at St. Paul High in Santa Fe Springs. "I'm giving myself one last shot. If it works out that I win, that's great. If not, that's fate, and it's time to move on."

Consciously or not, Koyama has been gravitating toward the professional ranks since she started playing golf as a youngster in Monterey Park. Her play as an amateur--she was a two-time All-American in high school--attracted the attention of UCLA women's golf Coach Jackie Tobian-Steinmann.

"Debbi looked like a determined young lady and she had a good demeanor on the course," said Tobian-Steinmann, who has been coaching the Bruins for 17 years. "In college, she was kind of an all-around good player. She never sprayed the ball, she was always down the center. And her short game has gotten a lot better."

The 5-foot-8 Koyama was an assistant for UCLA in 1992, a position that enabled her to practice with the Bruins and keep her game sharp. She approached this year's U.S. Open--her third--with several goals.

"My first goal was to make the (36-hole) cut, which I had never done before," Koyama said.

Koyama got over that hurdle by shooting a 70 and 74. She finished the tournament with a 72 and final-round 75.

"Once I made the cut, I wanted to be in the top 25," Koyama said. "I came up a stroke short."

Koyama, however, came away from the tournament with confidence that she can compete with the pros in a sport as unforgiving as they come.

"I didn't think my game was that far behind everyone else's," Koyama said. "But from talking with other players, you can't really prepare yourself for what it's going to be like once you're out there playing every week.

"That kind of experience comes from playing on the tour. It's not something that I can work on before I get there."

Koyama spent this past week preparing for the U.S. Amateur. After the tournament, she will be off to qualifying school in Florida where she must finish among the top 25 to make the finals in October.

A professional career seems so close, but it is also far away.

"People ask me about sponsors and what I'm going to do, but you can't go knocking on someone's door without a resume," Koyama said. "You need the (tour) card in your possession to even plan something like that.

"I'm not going to plan anything until I get to that point."

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