Ferd Lewis: Idyllwild grows more than wild strawberries and tall trees
Deep in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains the strawberries grow wild and the pine trees grow tall. What they aren’t known for producing, however, are golfers.
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Deep in Southern California’s San Jacinto Mountains the strawberries grow wild and the pine trees grow tall.
What they aren’t known for producing, however, are golfers.
Deer and bobcats certainly, but definitely not pro golfers.
At least until Brendan Steele came long, that is.
Ask the Sony Open in Hawaii’s third-round leader how the tiny (3,000 population) and mile-high burg of Idyllwild — 45 minutes from the nearest golf course or driving range — has managed to produce a PGA Tour player and he’ll nod like a man who has given the topic some long and serious consideration over the years.
“That’s a good question,” Steele said, and the thought might even occupy him as he reflects on the long and winding mountain roads that have brought him to the doorstep of his fourth PGA Tour victory today with a three-stroke lead over Cameron Smith entering the final round at Waialae Country Club.
Under the steady drizzle of darkened skies back-lit by the jumbo-tron and in front of, maybe, 150 hardy viewers on the 18th hole, Steele closed out a 6-under-par 64 with a birdie to match the lowest round of the tournament and secure a 12-under-par 198.
For somebody who was coming off perhaps his worst season last year, the 36-year-old Steele has quickly found his way this year.
He birdied five of the last six holes Friday to grab a share of the second-day lead and, after an initial slow start, picked up the pace Saturday despite the inclement weather.
But, then, his first PGA Tour victory, the 2011 Valero Texas Open, was also ground out in challenging weather. The highest scoring average in the event’s history, 73.665, and highest winner’s score in 77 years (280) were testament to the conditions. And, of course, Steele’s focus and tenacity.
Some of it no doubt forged from playing in makeshift conditions like he grew up with in Idyllwild, an area once considered so remote that it was selected as an ideal location for a sanatorium to treat tuberculosis patients.
Before Steele’s birth, his parents had moved up there to get away from the big-city life of Los Angeles. His father, a lawyer, had taken a liking to the area from time spent rock climbing, hiking and camping.
Young Steele inherited his family’s love for the lifestyle and the area. “It’s a beautiful place, I love it up there,” he said. “I got to be really active outdoors and it was a small school — kindergarten through eighth grade was about 500 kids — so any sports, whatever the season was, I would just play everything.”
Steele said, “I would be a basketball player when it was basketball season. I would play point guard on the basketball team. The team didn’t do well, but it gave me a lot of opportunities to do really fun things.”
When he showed a late interest in golf as a teenager, the family rigged a net in the backyard for him to hit into and laid out an ersatz putting green. “They would drive down to pick me up from school and take me to the golf course. And then my dad would come get me. Just a lot of work on their part,” he said.
The secret of going from Idyllwild to a place atop a PGA leaderboard?
“Parents that will do whatever is necessary to get you onto a golf course and get a club in your hands,” Steele said.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 529-4820.