Nico Bollini Wins SCGA Amatuer Championship
July 16, 2002
Tarzana, Calif. - A tournament that was his to lose was nearly lost.
And Nico Bollini could hear the echoes, that incessant ribbing that was sure to follow if he blew it.
His USC teammates, his friends at UCLA and UC Irvine, all of them would have conspired, he knew, to keep the memory alive if Bollini had relinquished the lead and lost the 103rd SCGA Amateur Championship Sunday at the El Caballero Country Club.
'Oh, there would have been some grief,' Bollini said. 'It would have been good-natured, but there would have been some of it.'
But Bollini, a rising sophomore at USC, didn't blow it.
He overcame a ragged start and won the title by making an eagle on the second playoff hole, defeating UCLA's John Merrick, the defending champion, and UC Irvine's Michael Lavery.
All three finished 2 under par to reach the playoff, Lavery eliminated when he made bogey on the first hole. That left Yorba Linda's Bollini and Long Beach's Merrick, friends since their early junior days, to duel again.
Merrick was seeking history, attempting to become only the seventh player to repeat as champion. And he was in good position, it appeared, when he left himself a tap-in for birdie on the second playoff hole, a 510-yard par-5.
But Bollini stole the show, holing a 25-footer for eagle.
'I came in with not many expectations,' Merrick said. 'And I have nothing to be ashamed about. When a guy makes eagle, he deserves to win. It was a nice little Trojan-Bruin rivalry there.'
Bollini, who had earned the lead by shooting 65 in the third round, began the final round at 6 under par, 2 strokes ahead of John Pate, 5 strokes ahead of Merrick and 10 ahead of Lavery.
And he let them all back into contention by shooting a 75 that included a 40 on the front nine and a double-bogey to begin the back.
It would have been easiest for the 19-year-old son of an Argentine father to falter. But Bollini has experience under pressure. He won the 2001 Argentine Amateur and that experience, he said, helped.
'This is a much more prestigious title because the field here is so much deeper,' he said. 'In Argentina I had to beat 10 people. But winning always helps.
'I didn't really panic. I knew that as bad as I was playing I was still right in it, and when I got to the back nine I just told myself it was time to start all over again.'
Bollini, after hitting his tee shot to the par-3 10th into the water and making his double, played the final 10 holes, including the playoff, in 4 under.
And that was enough to outlast Merrick, who shot 70, and Lavery, who shot 65.
Pate was never a factor. He made triple bogey on the second hole and shot 78.
'I like to know where I stand, so I kept asking,' Bollini said. 'I knew I had to play aggressively coming in. Then when I got to the playoff, I felt like I had a second chance.'
Merrick, too, made certain he knew where he stood.
He shot a 37 on the front nine, learned that Bollini, one group back, was struggling, then reeled off birdies on 11 and 12 to move into the lead at 1 under.
He added another birdie on the 14th to become the first to reach 2 under and had an opportunity to reach 3 under and win. But he missed a 10-foot putt for birdie on the 18th.