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Finally Up to Par, Kohut Is Tied for Third


MURRIETA — One look at J.T. Kohut's summer golf schedule and it's no wonder his head has been turning circles.

Unlike a spinning ball landing on the green after a purely struck pitching wedge, a spinning head has no good use in golf.

Kohut learned that the hard way, slumping badly for the last three weeks. But a quick visit to his sports psychologist and a radical schedule change have put Kohut's mind at ease and his golf game back where it should be.

The Westlake High senior-to-be proved as much Friday during the first two rounds of the Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur championship at the SCGA Members' Course. He shot rounds of 68 and 74 for a total of even-par 142, putting himself in a three-way tie for third place.

Kohut, who trails leader Ed Cuff, Jr. of Temecula by five strokes and second-place Scott McGhion of Bermuda Dunes by three, ended a month-long slump in which he has failed to break par in his last seven competitive rounds and has not made the cut in three tournaments.

Part of the problem is Kohut, 18, might have been looking ahead.

College recruiting officially began on July 1 and this is the summer college coaches will be watching to see if this phenom is for real. Kohut loaded his summer schedule with some of the top amateur tournaments in the nation.

"I've just been pressing so hard," Kohut said. "I've been wanting to win real bad."

Kohut shot even-par 36 through nine holes in the first round of the California Amateur before his struggle began.

He fired a 46 on the back nine of that round for an 82. In the second round he shot one-over-par 73 and did not make the cut.

Two weeks ago at the American Junior Golf Assn. Legacy Tournament in Las Vegas he shot 81-75-74--230 and packed his bags.

Earlier this week at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions--which Kohut called the biggest junior golf tournament in the world--he struggled to a score of 77-78--155 and did not make the cut.

"I haven't played that bad in a long time," Kohut said. "I just don't play like that."

Kohut, who has been winning golf tournaments since just about the time he learned how to walk, figured the problem was mental.

He summoned the help of sports psychologist Alan Jaeger, who in a quick session Thursday night told Kohut to remember why he played golf to begin with.

"My mind was congested," Kohut said. "He told me to just have fun and not stress out about it."

Jaeger traveled to Murrieta from his Woodland Hills office to caddie for Kohut for his opening-round 68 before leaving Kohut on his own.

"He got me into a good mind-set," Kohut said. "Golf is funny that way. If your mind is wrong it makes your mechanics wrong."

Also reducing the stress was Kohut's decision to pull out of the Western Amateur Championship and the Canadian Amateur Championship. He was scheduled to play those tournaments in the next two weeks.

"I was so tense in here," Kohut said, pointing to his head. "I really needed to take some time off."

Kohut will take the next two weeks off and visit his mother in Stockton, where he will prepare for the AJGA Boys' championship in Dallas beginning Aug. 3 and for the U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament the following week.

But for now, he will focus on catching Cuff, who won the California Amateur championship last month and is trying to become the first person since Johnny Dawson in 1942 to hold both titles.

"I can't think about that," said Cuff, a 36-year-old steel manufacturing salesman. "I would love to do it if I'm in position, but in this game you win so rarely that it's fun to just be in the hunt."

Cuff did not make a bogey until the 18th hole of his first round. He made two bogeys to go with four birdies in the afternoon.

Kohut rolled in two 20-foot birdie putts among his four morning birdies and sank another 20-footer in the afternoon.

Defending champion Craig Steinberg of Van Nuys, trying to become the second five-time winner in the history of the tournament, was not in top form on Friday, finishing at 73-74--147, 10 strokes off the pace.

Tim Hogarth of Chatsworth, the 1996 U.S. Public Links champion, shot a 78 in the morning and was disqualified after he hit a ball into a hazard on the 13th hole of the afternoon round and walked off the course without finishing his round.

Others from the region who made the cut, which fell at 151, were Keith Kinsel of Glendale , Desi Patao of Burbank and Paul Tanner of Burbank.

Bobby Rodger of Redlands, who attends Pepperdine and lost to Cuff in the California Amateur final, shot 149 and his brother, Alex Rodger, also made the cut at 150.



Friday at SCGA Members' Club, Murrieta

(Top 42 and ties advance)

137--Ed Cuff Jr., Temecula, 68-69

140--Scott McGhion, Bermuda Dunes, 71-69

142--J.T. Kohut, Simi Valley, 68-74

Greg Padilla, Del Mar, 70-72

Mike Samoles, San Diego, 75-67

143--Mark Johnson, Helendale, 71-72

Brian Ricketts, Alhambra, 73-70

144--Donald O'Connor, Carlsbad, 71-73

James Camaione, Upland, 71-73

145--Scott Almquist, Santa Ana, 75-70

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