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The Grass Slipper Fits Botsford

August 07, 2003|THOMAS BONK

He played soccer and basketball at San Marino High but wasn't on the golf team until his junior year. When he graduated, no one offered him a golf scholarship.

He tried to walk on to the USC golf team. The coach said he wasn't a very good player. He was given a tryout and had to shoot par to make the team. He shot six over. The next semester, the coach gave him another tryout. He shot four over.

But there was something about Chris Botsford that convinced USC player Kevin Stadler to pull Trojan Coach Kurt Schuette aside and ask him not to give up on that 5-foot-9 kid from Pasadena.

What that something amounted to is now clear. Botsford simply wasn't going to give up.

And now, that stubborn quality looks as if it has paid off.

This season, Botsford was the popular co-captain of the USC golf team, last week he won the Western Amateur and next year, if all goes well, he's thinking about a career as a professional. At the very least, Botsford already has one pro tournament penciled in -- because of his big amateur victory, he has earned a spot in next year's Western Open.

This is an unexpected turn of events, to say the least, which is what many thought of Botsford when he graduated from high school.

How can a twice-failed walk-on become captain of a major-college golf team, post a victory in one of the most prestigious amateur tournaments in the country and end up with a date to play in the same tournament as Tiger Woods?

Schuette says he knows how. Obviously, he says, it's a Cinderella story, and if it isn't that, then it's a rags-to-riches story.

Whatever type of story it really is, the moral is clear. Over time, Schuette said he learned that it isn't smart to predict what Botsford could accomplish. At USC, he said, they're not in the business of telling someone what they can't do.

It is a philosophy that works well with Botsford, who probably wouldn't listen anyway.

It has all happened so fast for Botsford, which means he can appreciate it even more.

He says he's living a dream and in that dream he's experiencing the thrill of a lifetime.

To him, it doesn't seem that long ago that he was getting his first taste of golf at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena, where his dad and both grandfathers played. Neither Steve Botsford, who is a real estate developer, nor Denise Botsford, who sold real estate, pushed their son toward golf, but simply encouraged him in whatever direction he wanted to go.

As it turns out, he decided on golf, even though he wasn't setting the world on fire with the way he played it. Botsford still doesn't hit the ball a long way, but he was a lot shorter off the tee back then. Where he has become much more polished is his ability to hit fairways and greens and be as steady as a metronome.

Maybe he is doing a fair impression of a Jim Furyk type or a Mark O'Meara. Schuette compares Botsford to someone like Ben Curtis, hardly the splashy type, unless you count winning the British Open in the first major you play as something splashy.

But for Botsford, there was some convincing to do first, to make sure it was no mistake to take a chance on him. After Botsford failed to make the USC team for the second time, Schuette gave him a detailed performance schedule he expected him to follow. And because Botsford wasn't a member of the team, he had to do it all on his own.

The list included such items as private instruction twice a month, a complete workout schedule, consulting with a sports psychologist and, most important, regular reporting back to Schuette on his progress.

It wasn't that unusual a deal, says Schuette, who has offered the same opportunity to at least 50 others. But Botsford stood out because he did it better than anyone before.

Schuette believes that the success Botsford has enjoyed could happen to anyone who focuses on doing the right thing, who works hard, employs the right attitude, grinds every day, never gives up and pushes himself to the limit.

Next year at USC, Botsford is going to help out Schuette as sort of a graduate assistant, because he will be a fifth-year senior and is no longer eligible. The plan, he says, is to take it one step at a time. He wants to get his degree in finance and marketing and then maybe turn pro.

That would be a big step. This week, Botsford is taking another when he competes in the Pacific Coast Amateur in Vancouver, Canada, where he is facing the top amateurs in the nation. He's two under after two rounds, tied for ninth. If he allows his mind to ponder the possibilities, he must be thinking, "Can I win this one too?"

Maybe he is also thinking that stranger things have happened. He probably knows that better than anybody.

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