MURRIETA – Rak Cho does not consider himself to be the most skilled player around the greens. However, when he needed his short game the most it was there and that allowed him to overcome a shaky ball striking day, winning the 123rd California State Open at Murrieta’s Bear Creek Golf Club on Thursday with a four-day total of 203 (-13). He prevailed by two shots over Canyon Lake’s Chad Hambright as the pair shot matching even par rounds of 72.
This win also marks Cho’s final event on American soil as he will be moving to Korea next month to pursue full status on the various Asian tours overseas. It is also Cho’s second straight top five finish at Bear Creek as he recorded a T3 finish at last year’s Korn Ferry Tour second stage qualifying event.
After birdie at three, which stretched his two-shot lead to four after a Hambright bogey, Cho made a pair of impressive up and downs on the fourth and fifth holes to keep it there. At four he missed the green long and hit a severely downhill chip shot to tap in distance. Then after nearly hitting his tee shot into the right penalty area on five Cho punched out sideways and made a testy putt for par. Hambright made his first birdie of the day at five but it only gained him a stroke. Cho bogeyed the short par three sixth hole and found his lead cut to three shots after Hambright got up and down from just off the green’s left edge.
“Rak did such a good job of making those up and downs that he just had to have to keep his round going and I just didn’t hit it close enough to give myself many good opportunities,” Hambright said. “I’ve had a good year (an ASHER Tour win and a pair of course records along with this runner up) so far but without status anywhere the opportunities are few and far between to get starts. My main goal is to be ready for Q-School in a couple of months and they set the course up in a manner similar to how it’ll play that week which is an encouraging sign.”
Perhaps Cho’s best up and down was on the par five ninth which shares a green with the 12th hole. He went for the green and reached but was faced with a 90-foot downhill eagle opportunity which he would chip to tap in distance, restoring a four shot lead when Hambright failed to get up and down from the front bunker for his birdie.
“I had basically no chance with a putter to get it within ten feet at nine which made me decide to chip from there and I surprised myself with how close I was able to get it,” Cho said. “This is a huge confidence boost for me after battling a back injury which forced me to withdraw from the Korn Ferry Tour finals at the end of last year.”
Hambright got up and down at the par five 14th for his second birdie of the day which cut Cho’s lead to three again. With three holes to go Cho was hanging onto a two-shot lead after he failed to get up and down from the right greenside bunker at 15.
However, the duo traded hard fought par’s down the stretch as Cho secured the win, earning $10,500 for his victory.
Anaheim’s Brannon Farhny (a Cal State Fullerton golfer) earned low amateur honors after shooting a one under par total of 215. He beat Temecula’s Ryan Abuan by a shot for those honors. He earned $1,000 for winning those honors.
Derryl Trujillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.