MONTEREY -- A week after playing in the U.S. Open, Santa Cruz resident Cory McElyea has a chance at winning one of the nation's greatest amateur events.
McElyea earned a spot in Saturday's 36-hole finals of the 102nd California State Amateur Championship at Monterey Peninsula Country Club by defeating Pace Johnson in 19 holes in Thursday's semifinals on the Dunes Course. The 2010 Harbor High grad is the first Monterey Bay player to reach the finals of the State Am since Casey Boyns in 1993.
"I got in from the U.S. Open late Sunday and I've been playing golf ever since, so I'm a little tired, but it feels great," said McElyea, who clinched the win when Johnson bogeyed the first hole of sudden death. "It feels good because match play is such a grind."
When it comes to playoffs, McElyea entered the 19th hole with plenty of practice, and success. In qualifying for the U.S. Open, he survived a playoff at both the local and sectional levels.
The 21-year-old McElyea, who plays at the University of San Francisco, got a full dose of pressure on the 18th hole Friday afternoon. With the match all-square, McElyea bogeyed the hole after missing the green right. Johnson, who recently won the Fresno City Am, set himself up with a 3-foot par putt to win. He'd miss.
"When he was standing over that putt, I thought it was over," said McElyea, who moments earlier had watched his chip shot teasingly bee-line to the cup before lipping out. "In match play, you assume the best from who you're playing. I was preparing to congratulate him."
Looking for his first win since the 2011 Monterey City Amateur, McElyea, the No. 10 seed, has used his U.S. Open experience to his advantage. While the Dunes Course greens may be rolling faster than the rain-soaked greens at Merion, the wider fairways and shorter rough have been a welcome reprieve.
"The U.S. Open taught me that you need to be as straight as possible off the tee," said McElyea, who's using his brother, Conor, as a caddie. "When the course isn't as penal, like here, you become more precise with your driver."
McElyea's final's opponent will be 19-year-old Clovis resident and No.29 seed Bryson Dechambeau. The long-hitting Southern Methodist University sophomore earned his spot after dispatching Los Osos' Matt Hansen via a convincing 5 and 4 semifinals victory.
On his front-nine, Dechambeau shot 29. Using his dad, former Northern California Golf Association great Jon Dechambeau as caddie, he'd play the 14 holes at 8-under. On the 484-yard, par-5 ninth, the 2010 California State Junior champ used driver and a 9-iron, sticking his approach to within two feet.
In Monday's first round of stroke play qualifying, Dechambeau shot a 77 on the Shore Course.
"It's fun and exciting. I didn't think I'd be here after Monday," Dechambeau said. "I just told myself to keep it together and that the putts would start falling. Having my dad on the bag has helped a lot too. He relaxes me and helps me focus on the task at hand."
Earlier in the morning quarterfinals, Seaside resident and No.21 seed Nick Moore had pushed Dechambeau to 19 holes.
A caddie at Cypress Point Club, Moore fought his way back from an early two hole deficit and eventually tied the match on the 18th after Dechambeau's putt for par hung up in the greenside collar. Moore had a chance to extend the match to the 20th hole, but on the Dunes' first green, he'd miss his 4-foot putt for par.
"I'm disappointed but it's a part of the game," said Moore, who won last month's NCGA Public Links Championship. "I'd made all the 4-footers that I needed to all day except for that one. I gave it a great effort."
In his quarterfinals match, McElyea used an eagle on No. 9 to knock off Riverside's David Gazzolo, 3 and 1.
Former winners of the championship include Johnny Miller, Mark O'Meara, Bobby Clampett and Ken Venturi. Today's finale will tee off at 7:30 a.m.