City golf championships go down to the wire

The men went the distance and the women took it to overtime in the San Francisco City Golf Championship on Sunday
George Gandranata won the men’s title by beating stroke-play qualifying medalist Cory McElyea 1-up, while Samantha Esguerra held off Bonnie Hu in 38 holes.

Behind by one in the 36-hole match-play final with three holes to go, Gandranata shrugged off the chill from the 35-40 mph winds blowing off Lake Merced and drained a 12-foot putt to tie the match on the 16th hole.

On the 17th, Gandranata hit a bunker shot within inches of the flag, winning the hole and giving him a 1-up lead with one hole remaining. After both men bogied the 18th hole, the 23-year-old Cal senior was crowned City Champion.

“It’s unbelievable, holding off an opponent like Cory in such a prestigious tournament,” the fourth-seeded Gandranata said.

Esguerra, the women’s stroke-play medalist, had a strong start to the day jumping out to a four-hole lead after the first nine. Defending champion Hu battled back, and the women were all square after the first 18.

The women’s championship match remained even after the regulation 36 holes and was decided on the second sudden-death hole.

“I had a good lie, hit it on the green and two-putted,” Esguerra said. “My first putt was short. I was nervous. I was shaking. I said to myself this had better go in, and it did.”

The 16-year-old junior at Alameda High School was “tired and excited” after 38 holes and nine hours of golf to win The City Championship. She battled the harsh winds by hitting punch shots and keeping her game low to the ground.

Men’s runner-up McElyea played without his caddie, brother Conor, a senior on the USF golf team.

“My brother knows my club selection better than I do,” said the Washington-bound younger sibling. “But he was at a qualifying tournament with USF.”

Gandranata has no short-term plans to turn professional. He’s finishing up his last semester at Cal, applying to economics graduate programs and will compete later this month at the Azalea Tournament, a nationally ranked amateur tournament in South Carolina.

“As of now, I don’t think that I’m ready for the next level, but with more experience I think that I’ll be ready,” Gandranata said. 

The native of Indonesia feels that he needs to work on reducing the slice in his tee shots and improving his short game.

Three-time tournament finalist and 1999 tourney champion Randy Haag was a spectator at Sunday’s men’s championship and walked away a fan of Gandranata.

“That defines a winner,” Haag said. “George’s game is very solid.” 

Herb Jensen, the 29th-seeded player in his division, won the senior division 4 and 2 over Tony Wilmer.

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