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SCGA AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP

UCLA's Merrick Reaffirms His Breakthrough

July 23, 2001|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a competitive golfer to become successful, he must eventually learn the difference between a high finish and winning.

For John Merrick, that time has arrived.

Merrick, 19, from Long Beach, shot a final-round three-under-par 69 Sunday at La Jolla Country Club, fended off a late charge by his UCLA teammate Travis Johnson and won the Southern California Golf Assn. Amateur Championship.

It was the second victory in as many weeks for Merrick, whose four-round total of eight-under-par 280 was two shots better than Johnson. Last week Merrick won the Long Beach City championship.

Merrick, who will be a sophomore this fall, is the first UCLA player to win the SCGA Amateur since Mark Blakely in 1982 and is the youngest player to win it since Tiger Woods won as an 18-year-old in 1994.

Merrick said that before last week he had not won a significant tournament, even as a junior.

"The whole thing is my attitude," Merrick said. "I feel pretty good with my swing and now I'm keeping my emotions in check. Winning last week definitely helps. Coming down the stretch I stayed calm."

That wasn't easy with Johnson, the only player to make a charge Sunday, doing everything he could to apply pressure.

Johnson, who will be a junior, began the day three shots back and fell four behind after a bogey at No. 13.

But playing a group ahead of Merrick, Johnson holed a 157-yard nine-iron shot for eagle on No. 14 to close within two and cut the lead to one with a birdie on the par-five 15th.

The one-shot difference was short-lived, however, when Merrick responded by hitting a nine-iron to within eight feet on No. 15 and making the eagle putt, then birdied No. 16 for a four-stroke lead with two holes to play.

"John wasn't missing any shots and he has confidence," said Johnson. "Golf is an easy game when you have those."

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