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ON THE GREEN

King Of Swing

'Doctor' Lasken Has Magic Touch With Golf Pupils

August 09, 2000|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's another hot midsummer day at the Buena Park Golf Center and, at the far end of the driving range, past the dozens of golfers banging balls, Bobby Lasken is making miracles happen.

That's what his students will tell you, anyway. Then again, most golfers have a skewed sense of what constitutes a miracle. Anything that helps them hit it longer or straighter, even if it works just one time, counts as magic.

Lasken has a knack for helping people do just that. Some call him "the doctor," but he shrugs that off.

"Doctors save lives," he said. "I save vacations."

Lasken, once a renowned junior golfer from Santa Fe Springs, has built a clientele that includes some of the top junior players in the nation. Now living in Monarch Beach, Lasken, 34, has become one of the most sought-after teaching professionals in Southern California.

His list of students includes James Oh of Lakewood, the 1998 U.S. Junior champion, and Angela Rho of Fullerton, nationally ranked as high No. 5 over the last year. Lasken pupils Stella Lee of Irvine, Priscilla Park of Santa Ana and Irene Cho of La Habra have all won national tournaments this summer.

David Oh is on scholarship at USC; Travis Johnson and Steve Wagner are at UCLA. All three see Lasken. Jay Choe of Yorba Linda and Mike Rim of Fullerton were Times' Orange County selections in high school and are rising stars on the national circuit.

Lasken's secret? Perseverance.

"It's a lot of hard work," Lasken said. "To build up the clientele to where it is now and to get the top players, you teach the group lessons and all the other kids. Eventually some of them start popping out and winning a few tournaments and that's how it goes."

Having a sterling record as a player doesn't hurt, either. As a junior golfer in Southern California, Lasken compiled an impressive resume. He won the junior world title, the state and national high school championships, was SCPGA junior player of the year and won numerous local amateur titles.

He attended UCLA and in 1988 was captain of the only Bruin men's golf team to win a national championship. As a pro, he has won 28 Golden State Tour events, set four course records and holds the U.S. Open record for eagles in a single round when he made two at Hazeltine in 1991.

Johnson, who will be a sophomore at UCLA in the fall and recently qualified for the U.S. Amateur, said Lasken's golf knowledge is as attractive as his ability to analyze the swing.

"Not only will he give you a good lesson, but he's not afraid to share a little wisdom," Johnson said.

Johnson recalled that as he was preparing for the U.S. Public Links last month, he went to Lasken for swing advice. Lasken asked about the venue. Johnson told him it was at Herron Lakes in Oregon and was surprised to find that Lasken knew the course.

"He's all, 'Oh, I've played there,' " Johnson said. "Who else has played some random course in Oregon? He has, he's played everywhere. Then he busted out with advice like make sure you keep it right on No. 3 and don't go for the green on 17, it's not worth it. Just random things like that are what makes him so money out here."

The seeds for success were planted when one of Lasken's pupils, Jin Park of Fullerton, qualified for the Nissan Open as a 16-year-old in 1996, becoming the youngest to qualify for the PGA Tour event.

"Once that happened, the flood gates opened," Lasken said.

But almost as quickly, they nearly shut. That same year, soon after the birth of Lasken's first child, doctors discovered a tumor in Lasken's leg. Further family plans went on hold, until doctors told him it was benign.

At that point, he and wife Mary decided to have another child. A week after Mary announced she was pregnant again, doctors told Bobby they had made a mistake and that the tumor was cancerous.

"That was just a load of bricks," Lasken said. "It was a surreal moment. When you think, 'I've got kids and now I might die,' that's pretty scary. It changes everything. You think 'just give me two years, give me three years, cut my leg off, I don't care, I just want to live."'

After two surgeries and countless hospital visits and tests, the prognosis is good and Lasken continues to teach. Mary gave birth to their third child five months ago and the teaching business is booming.

Lasken used the scare to jump start other money-making ventures. He has a web site (Laskengolf.com) that offers swing tips, instructional aids and sells golf equipment, and he has produced an introduction to golf video that will soon be in stores.

"If the cancer doesn't kill me, it's probably the best thing that ever happened to me," Lasken said. "It's made me do other things besides just working every day to create more money."

That's not much of a problem these days. With his students continuing to win tournaments, Lasken's reputation continues to grow. Recently, former USC and Raider quarterback Vince Evans stopped in for his first lesson with Lasken.

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