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Ex-basketball player Simonds takes shot at U.S. Open berth

Published June 8, 2005

When Belleair's Chris Simonds played at the par-3 Pinecrest Golf Club in Largo as a teenager, he never dreamed he'd one day be competing in a tournament for a spot in a U.S. Open Championship in Pinehurst, N.C.

That is what he's doing in the sectional at Old Memorial in Tampa this week. It's a 36-hole test among 52 qualifiers to determine the top three for the 105th championship, June 16-19.

"I never took golf seriously then," said Simonds, 23, a 6-foot-4 basketball guard for the Largo Packers. "It wasn't until the last couple of years that I got serious about golf."

Simonds' journey to Old Memorial was paved by a side trip to Bradenton for a three-month enrollment at Leadbetter Academy. He practiced and played nearly 12 hours daily under the direction of teaching pro Larry Marshall.

Marshall "knows my game like the back of his hand," Simonds said. "And I came away from there with videos I watch occasionally to check my swing."

Simonds signed up for the local U.S. Open qualifier at Innisbrook's Island course on May 11 when 90 top amateurs and seasoned pros competed for five spots at the next level. Simonds' 1-under 71 was good for fourth place. "I missed a lot of shots early on at Innisbrook, but my putting saved me," he said. "I was two or three down after four holes, but I never got discouraged.

"That's one thing I learned at Leadbetter - mental toughness," Simonds said. "Also, my caddie and friend, Adam Messer of Belleair, was a big help to me to maintain my confidence. After the bad start, I was able to make three birdies in a row on the front nine, including a 40-footer, to get back into it."

Simonds, a junior at USF where he doesn't play golf, said he has benefited from the membership his parents bought him at Belleview Biltmore. He also mentioned the support he has received from teaching pro Jim Smith at Missing Links Range in Largo.

"I got to play a practice round at Old Memorial last week, which helped, plus other rounds at long courses at Tampa Palms and Copperhead," Simonds said. "That should help me a lot at Old Memorial, where I've studied the greens carefully and appreciate how fast they are going to be. "I realize I'll be up against some of the best golfers in the state and the country. But if I concentrate on one shot at a time and my putting is good, then I'll be okay."

SECTIONAL NOTES: Former Florida Gator Camilo Benedetti and Dirk Ayers of Sarasota, who led the field at Innisbrook with 69s, are in the competition at Old Memorial.

--Former state amateur champion Akio Sadakata (Chamberlain High) and Doug LaCrosse, both of Tampa, will tee it up. --Dunedin's Bob Heintz, who is exempt on the PGA Tour, qualified at Innisbrook with 70 to advance to a section. He signed up for the one at East Lake Country Club, outside Atlanta.

BUICK SCRAMBLE: In a local qualifier at Tarpons Woods last week, a 13-under 59 catapulted a disparate team into a sectional qualifier in Lakeland next month.

The squad's Ed Hooper is 57 and the youngest member, Gregory McClimans, is only 15. Jim Ahearn, the club champion at Tarpon Woods, and Belleair member Ron Damico rounded out the winning team.

"I can drive 260 (yards), Juice (Ahearn) and Gregory were killing it off the tees, so we were only hitting 9-irons and wedges into the greens," Hooper said of the squad's success. "Those prodigious drives made a big difference."

The team exploited its length and accuracy by one-putting 15 greens for a total of 21 for the round. One long putt was a 35-footer by Hooper on the par-3 12th. And finishing in style, McClimans' 70-footer on 18 dropped for the squad's final birdie of the day.

COLLEGE: St. Petersburg's Mike Barbosa shot a final-round 71 for runner-up Georgia Tech in the NCAA Championships near Baltimore. Barbosa tied for second for the Yellow Jackets with Nick Thompson and Chan Song of Bradenton.

CGA: Scott Sabadosh and Rich Hagen captured the scramble at Seminole Lake last week with an 8-under 64. Tim Prestage and Bill Reddinger won the net division with 55. Bill Gill and Wayne Brozovich went even lower, winning the first flight with a 53 net. Susan Schaeffer and Sue Rudd prevailed among women with a net 64.

LARGO SCRAMBLE: Brothers Ben and Mike Maidenburg, plus Don Crotty and Ron Sellers, posted a 12-under 50 to win last week's bi-monthly match.

[Last modified June 8, 2005, 06:37:09]

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