Gleason: Underdog Holden holds his own - The Buffalo News
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Gleason: Underdog Holden holds his own

LEWISTON – Bobby Holden couldn’t help but laugh Saturday afternoon when he looked at the final leaderboard following the 56th Porter Cup. It looked like a Who’s Who list for amateur golf, a preview of the next generation of players who will make a living on the PGA tour.

So why was his name up there?

It’s a question that could be answered in the coming years as his game evolves and he gets more tournament experience on his resume. Until Saturday, he was largely a nameless, faceless figure who dominated at the University of Redlands, which is largely a nameless, faceless Division III school in California.

Holden finished three strokes behind winner Geoff Drakeford, one of the top amateurs from Australia. He was just behind University of Texas star Beau Hossler and University of Virginia senior Denny McCarthy. He was one shot behind Ben Eccles, another top Aussie playing in the final group Saturday.

More astonishing than Holden finishing alone in fifth, and leaving a collection of Division I players in his dust, was the road he took to Niagara Falls Country Club in the first place. When you hear about his journey, it’s easy to ascertain which one of these kids is not like the others.

Holden isn’t some snobby rich prodigy of wealthy, golf-addicted parents who joined an extravagant country club and raised their kid with a swing coach. He’s never had a private lesson. He’s not a member of a country club. He attended a public high school. His parents didn’t have money to give him the best clubs.

“Not at all,” he said. “It’s definitely something to be proud of, to make the best of your opportunities. I don’t get to play in as many tournaments as these guys. These guys are playing in tournament after tournament. Being able to play well, yeah, I’m proud, because I’ve had to rise above it.”

Holden has become an authority on rising above obstacles. He simply never learned to stop. His parents, Mary and Kevin Holden, had no intentions of turning their kids into golfers 10 years ago when they signed up for a beginner group lesson with about 25 kids in Simi Valley, Calif.

Holden and his older brother, Kyle, and younger sister, Shannon, were involved in other sports at the time. They were into swimming and basketball and soccer and water polo. Mary Holden was hoping they would learn the game and have fun with a different sport that was relatively inexpensive at the youth level.

The parents weren’t interested in the country club atmosphere. Their kids played on municipal courses before Wood Ranch Golf Club ran a special in which all three had unlimited golf for $400 a month, a pittance when stacked against the cost of babysitters.

And that was a blessing when Mary Holden was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. She dropped the kids off at the course, or sometimes they walked the mile from their home with their bags on their shoulders, while she underwent cancer treatment. While she was overcoming cancer, they spent the entire day on the golf course learning how to play.

Kyle, the oldest, was trying to make his high school junior varsity team when they took up the game. In a few months, he evolved from a beginner to a varsity player. In two years, Bobby had gone from whiffing to breaking par. Shannon came along with them and had similar success as she grew older.

And they knew the score at home, too.

“We lived paycheck to paycheck,” Mary Holden said. “And sometimes, paycheck to paycheck wasn’t enough. They were never given anything. We knew how hard they worked. They were up there every day, playing all day, hitting balls on the range and keeping themselves busy.”

Kyle Holden earned a Division I scholarship to Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, but he left after one year to concentrate on academics. Bobby Holden was on the Division I radar during his junior year at Royal High School, a public school, before a battling a serious bout of the swine flu that spread across the country in 2011.

He stayed in bed for two weeks, was out of school for three weeks and attended school only four days a week for the remainder of the year. He didn’t regain his strength for a full year. Division I coaches backed off. He attended Redlands because their coach showed the most interest.

Holden carried a 3.8 grade-point average and turned himself into a terrific player while his mother battled through her second bout with cancer. She’s since been in remission and walked all four rounds last week. You think they were worried when he made back-to-back bogeys to start the back nine?

“It’s just a game,” she said. “I’ve always told our kids, ‘There’s always going to be somebody better than you, and there’s always going to be somebody worse than you.’ Have fun and let the chips fall where they may.”

Holden has been a Division III All-American in each of his three years at Redlands. A putting lesson from Dave Stockton helped him win the D-III national championship last season, which led to him getting an invitation to the Porter Cup. His parents thought think twice before shelling out the $275 entry fee.

“It’s tough because you want to play in the top tournaments,” Holden said. “I can’t get mad at my parents for that. They’re giving me everything they can.”

The Porter Cup became a homecoming of sorts. His mother, the former Mary Clark, grew up in Syracuse with four brothers in a blue-collar family. At one time, she held the women’s basketball record for career points at Alfred University. Her husband is from St. Louis. Their jobs took them to California.

Other than college, Holden had never played an amateur event outside of California before the Porter Cup. He played mostly in small events near their home. He may have been raised in Southern California, but he has a Midwest humility, mental toughness and competitive spirit that will carry him a long way.

Anyway, as Holden confirmed, growing up on better courses doesn’t make better players. He played the final round with Texas freshman Taylor Funk, the son of Champions Tour member Fred Funk, and University of California junior Shotaro Ban. This kid from Division III outdrove them, and outplayed them, all afternoon.

“I hadn’t heard of him until today,” Taylor Funk said. “There are a bunch of different paths to the tour. If that’s his main goal, he’s on the right path. He has all the tools you need to keep going. He has the fundamentals, for sure.”

Holden will play in his second major amateur event outside of California next week in the demanding Western Open in Chicago, which could mean eight rounds in five days. His mother worried about having enough money for transportation and food. Plus, his volunteer caddie backed out on him last week.

The hurdles are par for the course for him, so he’s charging forward.

Holden’s confidence soared after he won the Division III title. He proved this week that he can play at the Division I level. He’s hoping to build on this week when he arrived in Chicago. Maybe he belongs on the Who’s Who list after all. Last week, he certainly made a name for himself.

“It’s awesome,” Holden said. “My goal was to play well and be in contention. I felt like I was. I played well. I’m very happy. I’ll take that from a D-III school.”


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