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SPOTLIGHT ON BOYS' GOLF

Taft Brings Back That '80s Show

April 01, 2002|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Walter Kearns rekindled the golf team at Taft High in 2000, he had one thing in mind: to build a winner.

It appears his plan is working.

Taft, a perennial City title contender for several decades before the school cut the program in 1994 because of budget constraints, was 11-0 and won the City 4-A League last season.

This year, Taft moved into the more competitive 6-A League and is 2-2 despite having two of its top players academically ineligible. "We've had a lot of fun with it," Kearns said. "This year, we're probably not going to win a city championship, but we're competitive. It'll take a few years to attract the good players, but we like to think we are building a winning program."

That's exactly what Taft was doing in the 1980s, when PGA Tour player Duffy Waldorf played there, led the Toreadors to three City championships and helped build a tradition. When money problems saddled the L.A. Unified School district in the '90s, schools cut back on athletic programs and golf at Taft was a victim.

Kearns, 79, a retired surgeon and an accomplished amateur golfer who had three sons graduate from Taft, volunteered to run the program at no cost to the school. The administration had no problem with his proposal.

"Frankly, I was just looking for something to do," said Kearns, who qualified for the 1989 U.S. Senior Amateur championship and shot his age more than 50 times last year. "It seems that the interest in the program is growing, but golf is a difficult sport to learn. It takes time to start from scratch."

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There is no official state championship in high school golf, and while discussion is underway to have one, the Atascadero tournament on Tuesday may have to do for now.

The 44-team tournament at Chalk Mountain Golf Course in Atascadero includes five teams from The Times' Southern California top 10 and some of the best teams from the Central Section and Northern California.

San Marcos, Palm Springs, Santa Margarita, and Westlake have all won CIF-SCGA titles in the last seven years and will all be at the tournament. Coaches have raved about the organization and quality of competition at the tournament.

"We love going up there," Westlake Coach Dave Costley said. "It's one of the better tournaments I've ever gone to."

The tournament format is combined score from three players.

"It's one of the best fields I've seen," Atascadero Coach Sam DeRose said. "We get a lot of local support from the community and it shows in the quality of the tournament. That's why teams like to come up here."

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Long Beach Wilson is on the verge of posting a good score, but may have to wait until next week to do it. That's when daylight savings time will be in effect.

Two of the Bruins' last three matches have been cut short by darkness. They were one-over as a team through 14 holes against Long Beach Millikan and were four over through 14 against Lakewood.

"We're starting to come alive," Wilson Coach Jim Ferguson said. "We usually do when we start playing 18 holes."

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