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Stuck on Golf

Stamps Key to Sport's Rebirth at Palisades High

April 02, 1998|PETER YOON TIMES STAFF WRITER

Burley Stamps no longer looks over his shoulder when he carries his golf clubs around campus at Palisades High.

He doesn't hide his clubs while on the bus between school and his home in Ladera Heights, nor does he sneak around to the back of the gym with his clubs on arrival at school so he can put them in the coaches' office without his friends seeing him.

He used to do all of these things, fearing he would be ridiculed about the sport he loved--as had happened so often in the past.

But one day last May, all of that changed.

Stamps shot his way to a surprise victory in the City Section individual golf championship, bringing respectability not only to himself and his sport, but to a once-proud golf program that had lost its luster over the years.

"People used to laugh at me when I told them I played golf," Stamps said. "They thought it was a corny sport. Winning [the City title] changed all that. When you do stuff that's successful, people regard you for that. Now I can walk anywhere with my clubs."

Stamps shot consecutive rounds of 73 last May at Wilson Golf Course in Griffith Park to win the 1997 City Section championship by seven strokes.

Records of past City Section champions are not kept, but Chick Epstein of Birmingham High and Joe White of Granada Hills, both of whom have coached golf in the City Section for more than 30 years, could not recall another African American winning the City Section individual title.

"That made it even more special," Stamps said. "They announced it on the speakers at school, and you should have seen how the girls started coming around. I got some respect after that."

Stamps, a 17-year-old senior with a booming drive and a delicate short game, has played golf for only four years. He became addicted to the sport after tagging along with his father, Burley Stamps Sr., at the Westchester Golf Course driving range.

With the help of youth programs such as the Western States Golf Assn., and the LPGA Urban Youth Golf Program, Stamps quickly improved.

His first time out on the course he shot 130. Next time, 109. He broke 90 within six months and broke 80 within a year.

Still, nothing would prepare him for what happened at last year's City championship.

Palisades, which won the CIF/SCGA tournament--the closest thing to a state high school tournament--in 1971 and 1972, dropped its program in 1991 because of waning interest.

Last year was the first year back for the program. The team played only a handful of matches and Stamps shot in the high 70s in most of them.

Stamps wasn't well known.

"He surprised a lot of people," Palisades Coach James Paleno said. "I knew he had the capability of scoring like that, but whether he could transfer it to a tournament was a different story."

Stamps and his father were instrumental in helping to restart the program at Palisades. Paleno recalls running into Burley Stamps Sr. at the driving range a couple of times and Stamps Sr. would ask about the team.

"I thought he was talking about the basketball team," said Paleno, who also coaches basketball at the school. "Then he told me about his son who has a five handicap and would like to play. I figured he was just like one of these basketball fathers who would say their kid shoots 90% from the three-point line."

But one look at the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Stamps pounding balls was all it took for Paleno.

"He was putting balls over the netting out there about 300 yards," he said. "And I thought 'Hey, maybe we have something here.' "

So the golf program at Palisades, the only City Section school to win the CIF/SCGA title, was reborn.

Still, it was not accepted. Stamps tried to get people to come out for the team, people he knew could play a little, but he ran into the same answers every time.

"They thought if they were seen carrying golf clubs they would get laughed at," Stamps said. "They said they had a reputation to keep up."

Stamps, however, has helped make golf cool at Palisades.

"I have basketball players who want to putt when we're putting, Paleno said. "And all kinds of kids want to take swings when we're swinging. It's sort of a status symbol now."

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