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GOLF / DAN HAFNER : Two Decades Later, He Hasn't Given Up

August 16, 1993|DAN HAFNER

"Many are called, but few are chosen."

That's a pretty good description of professional golf. Making it on any of the tours is becoming one of sports' toughest tasks.

Senior PGA Tour veteran Chi Chi Rodriguez thinks it has reached the point where it is extremely difficult for African-Americans or Latinos to make the grade.

"Lee Trevino and I were poor," Rodriguez said, "but we became golfers because we had a chance to become caddies. Caddies are almost as extinct as the dinosaur. Poor kids don't have much chance. Lee and I would never have a shot at it these days."

Tiger Woods, who has won an unprecedented three consecutive U.S. Junior Championships, is going to be the exception.

But there are no black golfers on the regular PGA Tour now that Calvin Peete is a senior.

Local pro Darren Davis could also break through this invisible barrier. But for the present, he is an example of how difficult it can be to become a professional golfer. Davis has been pursuing his dream for nearly two decades.

"The experts are telling me I should get a 9-to-5 job because at 32 I'm too old to make it," Davis said. "But I'm not ready to give up on my dream yet. Right now, I'm playing on the Golden State tour and getting ready for qualifying school in the fall."

Davis, who spent last year in London at the David Lloyd Center helping launch indoor golf, made it through the first round at the PGA's qualifying school in 1991 before falling by the wayside in the next. Fifty pros advance to the regular PGA Tour, and the next 50 qualify for the Nike tour.

"I enjoyed it in London, did some teaching and could play a simulated round on any course in the world," Davis said. "But it wasn't helping my career, so I came home."

In February, Davis tried to qualify for a Nike event at Yuma, Ariz. Three days before, he hurt his neck in a car accident and was in the hospital for the next two days. With his neck still sore, Davis missed qualifying.

In 1990, he shot a 68 at Los Serranos to qualify for the L.A. Open, but he didn't make the cut.

The Golden State tour, run by former sportswriter Doug Ives, is what's left for golfers such as Davis. Ives runs 80 tournaments a year, mostly in spring and summer on various Southland courses.

The Golden State tour has events that range from one day to four days. The purses can be as high as $100,000, but most of it is the golfers' money. Golfers pay a per-event entry fee of $160 to $450.

"Darren has played in several of our tournaments," Ives said. "He has talent. He hits the ball out of sight. Even though he doesn't have much experience, he can play. But competition out here is fierce. He's had some paydays. He's such a nice young man."

Davis' booming drives attracted interest from Cleveland Golf Co., and he now hits his 300-yard shots with their club, the Launcher. The company pays some of his expenses, but trying to make it in pro golf is an expensive proposition.

Davis, who has finished as high as third in a Golden State event, thinks the mini-tour is almost as rugged as qualifying school.

"I feel I am at my peak right now," Davis said. "This may be my final chance to have my dream come true. I'm ready."

Golf Notes

Although Southern California is a hotbed for golf, the U.S. Golf Assn. seldom holds one of its championships here. The USGA has staged 93 U.S. Opens for men, but only in 1948, when Ben Hogan won at Riviera Country Club, was it held in the Southland. Only one of the 48 U.S. Women's Opens was held in Southern California, in 1964 at San Diego Country Club. The U.S. Women's Amateur, which ended Saturday at San Diego Country Club, was only the third of 93 such events to be held in the Southland. David Eger, a spokesman for the USGA, said there were a couple of reasons for this situation: "First, we haven't been invited by many clubs. And there aren't that many suited to an Open, for instance. The fact is, we'd love to have more events in Southern California."

U.S. Public Links champion David Berganio of Sylmar will be among those trying to prevent Justin Leonard from repeating as U.S. Amateur champion. The 93rd tournament will begin at Champions Golf Club in Houston on Aug. 24. Leonard was low amateur in the U.S. Open in June with a 288 total. . . . Rancho Park's junior golf program is flourishing, with more than 150, ages 7 to 17, participating on the facility's nine-hole course on weekdays.

Golfers still have the rest of August in which to beat Tom Kite's 70 in the annual PGA "Beat the Pro" charity event. What started in 1952 as a one-day event now lasts for a month. A $10 donation gives a golfer, using his PGA-approved handicap, a chance to beat Kite.

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