Vaught's Views: Fuqua learns 'rough' lessons in final round

June 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Ben Fuqua finally played like a young golfer participating in his first BellSouth State Amateur Championship.

After keeping the ball out of the deep rough on 35 of 36 holes the first two days, Fuqua found the thick grass four times Thursday at Traditions Golf Club in Hebron. One of those wayward shots led to a triple bogey as Fuqua went from 4-under par going into the final round to a 2-over par finish after shooting a 6-over par 78.

Still, he tied for ninth to earn an automatic spot in next year's tournament. He also proved that winning the Kentucky high school championship in October was no fluke.

"I think being tied for third after two rounds spooked me like I was not supposed to be here," said Fuqua, a recent Danville High School graduate.


Yet Fuqua more than held his own in the most prestigious tournament he's ever been in. He had been trying to qualify for this event for five years and opened the tourney with rounds of 71 and 69, scores that had to impress his future University of Kentucky teammates that were also in the field.

He'll be joining strong UK team

Of course, those teammates let Fuqua know just how well he had to play just to earn a spot in the top five next season when they finished eighth in the recent NCAA Championship. John Holmes tied for sixth in the NCAA and coasted to victory in the State Amateur with a 14-under par score that was 12 shots better than anyone else.

Two of Fuqua's future teammates, Mark Blakefield and Brandon Waldrop, were also in the top 10 Thursday. Blakefield was eighth at 1-over par while Waldrop and Fuqua were two of five players that tied for ninth.

"It was a great tournament for me. It was the best field I've ever been part of and hopefully I learned some things from it," Fuqua said. "My goal is to use the rest of the summer to be ready to be in the top five at UK next year. But I know how well my teammates did in the NCAA. They have some really good players.

"Coach Brian Craig has done a great job with the program. Who knew Kentucky golf would be any good? I am just hoping I can add that fifth score they need next year to compete for the SEC championship."

That would only add to the illustrious year Fuqua has had. He became the first area player ever to win the state golf championship. He signed with Kentucky. He played well in his first J.E. Butler Memorial at Danville Country Club.

He had to survive a four-player playoff just to get into the State Amateur, which was reminiscent of the scenario he used in the high school regional tournament to advance to the state tourney.

He'll try to qualify for Southern Amateur Monday

Fuqua is going to Knoxville Monday in hopes of qualifying for the Southern Amateur. He'll be one of 51 golfers, including two future UK teammates, vying for nine spots in the Southern Amateur.

After that he hopes to qualify for the Kentucky Open. Later in July he'll try to earn a spot in the U.S. Amateur in New York. If he does that and then qualifies for the match play portion of the tournament, he'll get a spot in the top five from Craig for Kentucky's first week of play next season.

"It's not impossible to qualify and get to match play, but it is a tough test," Fuqua said. "But it would sure take pressure off that first week at Kentucky if I could do it."

Fuqua hopes Thursday's round will help him in future big tournaments. He said his "swing got away" a few times and he made one tactical error.

"The second time I was in the thick rough, I should have taken a penalty drop. I hate to do that. But my shot caught more grass, I lost the ball and then had to take a drop," Fuqua said. "I took a triple bogey I should never have taken."

Still, Fuqua now knows others realize he can play. He senses a different "presence" when he plays because of his state championship.

"I like the recognition and showing people that I am for real," Fuqua said. "My biggest motivation this week was to prove the state tournament was no fluke.

"But I know I am just scratching the surface of my potential. I could have played 10 shots better. Maybe I could not hang with Holmes, but I know I could have played a lot better and if I keep working on my game, I know the day will come when I will."

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