The California State Amateur is one of the oldest state amateur tournaments in the country. It is notable because of those who have won – Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi and Gene Littler – as well as those who came close – Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson, Craig Stadler and Tiger Woods. The recently concluded 2010 tournament, played at the spectacular Rancho Santa Fe Country Club near San Diego, added another compelling chapter to the storied history of the event.
The record will show that 22-year-old Scott Travers beat 40-year-old Harry Rudolph III, 4 and 3, to claim the crown. What it won’t show, unless you drill down a bit, was that Rudolph was the story of the tournament. Not to sell Travers short; he is the 2010 West Coast Conference player of the year out of Santa Clara University. But Rudolph was the local hero, returning to the amateur game with a vengeance.
Growing up at La Jolla Country Club, Rudolph was a child prodigy in San Diego, along with Phil Mickelson. They played against each other often, with Rudolph giving as much or more as he took. They became rivals in college, when Harry went to the University of Arizona and Phil to Arizona State. Rudolph was a first-team all-American in 1992; other all-Americans that year included David Duval, Justin Leonard and Mickelson. Rudolph’s ’92 Wildcat team, which included Jim Furyk, won the NCAA Championship. Shortly thereafter, Rudolph turned pro. And, for the most part, was never really heard from again.
After beating it around the then-Nike Tour, where his best year earned him $25,000, and anywhere else on the globe where there was a purse, he gave up the pro game in 2000, citing burnout as the main contributor. “I think I had the talent to make it, but I am not sure I knew how to make it,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune last year. “I wasn’t super happy doing it, which isn’t going to equate to success.”
He walked away completely. It would take him nine years to seek and receive reinstatement, in April of 2009. He returned to amateur golf, promptly won the San Diego city championship and qualified for the U.S. Mid-Amateur last fall.
With time to prepare, 2010 brought something of a schedule. He won the prestigious Kelly Cup in Los Angeles earlier this year, and then went to the finals last week at the California State Amateur. He played the Southern California Amateur last week, the Trans-Miss, and in a bid to broaden his reputation, he’ll head to the Porter Cup in New York. He’ll also play the Stocker Cup in the fall.
To get to the finals at Rancho Santa Fe, after 36 holes of stroke play, Rudolph had to beat the 22-year-old defending champion, a talented 17-year-old ticketed to the UCLA golf team, the current Southwestern Amateur champion (age 25), and then 2005 U.S. Mid-Am champion Kevin Marsh. Quite a lineup for a 40-year-old with a day job.
The semifinal match between Marsh, 37, and Rudolph was one for the ages. Rudolph quickly went 3-up after three holes, then promptly handed it back. He found himself 2-down after 14, but with some help from Marsh, he squared it after 17. Rudolph made birdie on 18 to win what he termed “a slugfest,” and the crowd, large for a state am and full of friends and family, erupted.
What makes Rudolph’s performance all the more interesting is the fact that he, along with a brother and sister, operates local landmark Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla. Harry III had to open each day of the tournament at 5:30 a.m., then return to close it after he played. Such is the glamorous life of the reinstated amateur.
Rudolph is a classic case study for the positive merits of amateur reinstatement. He did what every kid with a dream and some talent should do – turn pro. He went as far as he could before realizing that pro golf wasn’t his calling. Getting reinstated rekindled his competitive fire, and it doesn’t appear that his skills diminished during his time away from the game.
It’s hard to become a nationally ranked player from San Diego, especially when you work for a living and are raising a family, but he is going to try. He’ll be a threat every time he tees it up in California, but competing nationally won’t be easy. He was reminded of this recently when he went to Arizona to qualify for the 2010 U.S. Publinx, shot 69-68 – and didn’t even earn alternate status.
Welcome back to amateur golf, Harry Rudolph.