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The course is wedged between an industrial park, a small airport
and Pepe's Tacos. There is no grass on the tees, just AstroTurf
mats. The fairways are burnt out, and the greens, well, putting
on them is like putting on the Santa Monica Freeway. The few
players who aren't beginners wish they were, so at least they
would have an excuse. The roar of landing planes is interrupted
only by the steady serenade of police sirens. Van Nuys Golf
Course, in a depressed and depressing part of Los Angeles's San
Fernando Valley, is 18 holes of par-54 hell, but to Tim Hogarth,
who was crowned the 71st U.S. Amateur Public Links champion last
weekend, it is the little slice of heaven he has called home
since his first round there when he was 11. "That course--chewed
up, packed with a bunch of chops, in the middle of a slum--that
course is who I am," he says.

Hogarth's victory, which was capped by an 8 and 7 win over Jeff
Thomas of South Plainfield, N.J., in a 36-hole final match,
struck a blow for every muni-playing weekend warrior born with a
plastic spoon in his mouth. Despite being played in a most
incongruous place--Wailua Golf Course in Kauai, Hawaii--the
Publinks hosted the same motley crew you always find at the
tournament that bills itself as America's blue-collar national
championship. The competitors, their ages ranging from 16 to 52,
came from 46 states plus Puerto Rico and Canada. Some had
tattoos, others liver spots. Sure, there was an army of college
kids, but there was also a bellman, a fireman, a repo man, a
high school basketball coach, a carpenter, a cop, an elementary
school teacher, an insurance salesman, a C.P.A., an asphalt
machinist and even an "auto body technician," code words for
grease monkey.

Hogarth, a 30-year-old health food salesman, had to play 151
holes over six days to secure the title. The first two days were
each 18 holes of stroke play, after which the 156-man field was
cut to 64. (Taggart Ridings, a senior at Arkansas, was the
medalist with an eight-under-par 136.) Six rounds of match play
followed. "A golf stressfest," says Hogarth, who bumped off the
defending champ, Chris Wollmann, and last year's runner-up, Bill
Camping, on his way to the title. Though his ball striking was
shaky all week--during the final he hit two wormburners off the
tee--Hogarth survived on grit and a magic putter. Van Nuys ought
to get credit for both.

As a kid Hogarth would take on the old men at the muni's
practice putting green for spare change. Now that he's a
40-hour-a-week working stiff, Hogarth still sneaks out at lunch
hour a couple of times a week for skins games with the
self-styled Rat Pack, a group of a dozen regulars. The only
thing Hogarth didn't pick up at the Van Nuys course is a snooty
private club 'tude, but he'll get the chance to experience that
soon enough. For winning the Publinks, he earned a tee time at
the 1997 Masters. "It's going to be like visiting another
universe," Hogarth says. "I won't even be able to pull the club
back. I'm going to shoot 90." But he adds, "I could win the
par-3 tournament ... if they let me use a mat on the tee."

The Masters exemption has always made the Publinks one of the
most coveted amateur titles, and through the years it has been
won by eventual PGA Tour players Billy Mayfair, Jodie Mudd and
Dan Sikes Jr. But it was the chance for a free flight to Hawaii
that inflated the number of players entering the 36-hole local
qualifiers to 6,200, the second-highest total in the event's
history. With a nod to the financial realities of the
contestants, the Publinks is the only championship in which the
USGA helps players with expenses. The association even kicked in
$30 a day in meal money and got cut-rate hotel rooms.

Experiencing the islands was quite a trip for some of these
guys. The less-traveled competitors were taken aback by the
natives. "These Hawaiians, they don't look like the folks back
home in Louisiana," said Frank Wright, the pride of Bossier
City. There were new culinary discoveries as well. "At the luau
they dug up this pig and called it dinner," said a cringing
Michael Hasibar of Cathedral City, Calif. "There were all these
teeth, and an eyeball hanging out. It was sick." The beautiful
waters of the Pacific also offered plenty of adventure. "I was
boogie boarding and got caught in a riptide, and next thing I
know I was halfway to Japan," said Kyle Dobbs of Saline, Mich.,
who was reeled in by the Coast Guard after drifting for some 20
minutes. There was also a certain fascination with the local
culture. "Hula dancers, man," said Ridings. "I'm all for that."

There was a spring break atmosphere to the proceedings, but
while easily half the field were college players, the kids were
all business. It was the older crowd, the thirtysomething guys
with wives and mortgages and 9-to-5 jobs, who did the carousing,
a turn of events best explained by Cameron Azarri, a third-year
law student playing in his first USGA event. "I'm the fringe
element," he said. "All these college players are trying to make
a career out of golf. This is like life or death for them. For
the older guys, we're more relaxed and probably just happy to be

"I'm here to do a job, not screw around," confirmed Camping, a
recent graduate of Northwestern State University in
Natchitoches, La., who plans to turn pro at the end of the
summer. "It's not about a free trip to Hawaii, it's about
collecting the hardware. The only reason I'm here is to hold up
the winner's trophy." Jeff Burns, a senior at Houston, sounded a
more urgent note. "A tournament like this is a great way to
build your resume," he said. It was that kind of crazed fervor,
as well as their robotic practice routines and buzz cuts, that
led one bemused older competitor to tab the college players the
Hitler Youth.

As for the old slackers, Thomas Lapcevic would have to be their
poster boy. "I'm so happy right now," he said moments after
missing the cut. "This is absolutely the best thing that could
have happened." Lapcevic is a 37-year-old fifth-grade teacher
from Florida who had never been west of the Mississippi, so his
enthusiasm was understandable. By missing the cut, he freed up
three days to enjoy Kauai, which he did by snorkeling,
sunbathing, frolicking in waterfalls and hiking in the lush

This lack of motivation and hedonistic lifestyle were held in
low regard by the whippersnappers. The Senior tour, they called
it, and derisively referred to their, shall we say, more
experienced competitors as the old guys. As in, "You don't want
to lose to one of the old guys," Burns said. "It's pretty
embarrassing." Meanwhile, there was much snickering at the
earnestness of the flat bellies, as the undergraduates were
commonly called. While 33 of the 64 players who made the cut
were in college or had recently graduated, only two made it to
the quarterfinals. Said runner-up Thomas, 37, "Tell all those
kids they got whipped by a former clam digger."

All this razzing was good-natured, but there was some serious
sniping about just how publinksy some of the competitors were.
Many, if not most, of the college players have a private club as
their home course, at least for nine months a year. This does
not affect their eligibility for the Publinks, though, because
the USGA considers such a privilege to be incidental if it's
provided by an educational institution. Ditto if the access is
provided by "an industry by which [the player] is employed or
retired." Hasibar, for instance, can play year-round at swanky
Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., because he
works in the bag room there. There are also the so-called
touring amateurs, like Thomas, who played in five big-time
amateur events in the last six weeks, all at private clubs.
"You've got to look pretty hard to find a true public links
golfer around here," said one of the few, Thom Piscopink, 48,
who lays carpet for a living and plays once a week.

Even Hogarth came in for some criticism because he had turned
pro shortly after graduating from Cal State-Northridge in 1990.
During two seasons knocking around the Golden State mini-tour,
he won five tournaments and nearly $10,000. His amateur status
was restored in April after he sat out for three years. But it's
pretty hard to question his credentials considering how strong
his ties are to Van Nuys. At 13 he was picking up the baskets at
the driving range in exchange for all the balls he could hit. At
15 Hogarth got paid to work the range, and a year later he was
promoted to the counter at the adjacent miniature golf course.
He worked for two more years in the shop at the big course, and
during his touring years he worked at Van Nuys as a teaching
pro. "Everything I know about golf I've learned there," he says.
That's saying a lot, considering the longest hole at Van Nuys is
140 yards.

The night before he earned his national championship, Hogarth
was relaxing by the water at his oceanfront resort. Carefully he
pushed aside the pineapple slice and the little magenta umbrella
and took a big swig of his pina colada. His eyes settled on the
azure waters of the Pacific. "I am," he said, after a pause, "a
long way from home."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEVE WILKINGS Weaned on a par-3 course in Van Nuys, Calif., Hogarth has gone a long way with his short game. [Tim Hogarth golfing]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY STEVE WILKINGS Thomas, 37, made waves blasting his way through a field that included mostly younger players. [Jeff Thomas in bunker]