Kyle Souza didn't grow up playing on a country club, but that didn't stop him from becoming an elite golfer with a classy demeanor and a short game to die for.

A former Livermore High star and the 2011 NCAA Division II champion at Chico State, Souza is trying to break through as a professional.

One guy who likes his chances is Steve Ficovich, the club pro at The Course at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, a Greg Norman-designed gem in the rolling holes.

"He reminds me a lot of Retief Goosen with his demeanor," Ficovich said of Souza. "Whether he's out there making a birdie or a double bogey, he doesn't seem to change very much. He really deserves everything he's gotten.

"Out of the numerous high school kids that I've seen come and go, Kyle's always been the one out there on late afternoons putting and chipping, working on his short game for hours at a time. I can't say enough about him as an individual -- very unassuming, a young gentleman."

Consequently, Souza is always welcome at Wente, the hometown course of Livermore high's golf teams, and where Cal and Santa Clara University's squads hold challenge matches.

Souza, who turned professional in June, has played in the California and Colorado state opens, making the cut in both and finishing in the middle of the pack. He's also played in Pepsi Tour events -- one-day, low-cost tournaments on the West Coast -- and plans to compete on the Gateway Pro Tour, which starts in January. He might also try the Canadian Tour before heading to PGA Tour Q-School next year.


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He's looking for sponsors to help him achieve his golfing objectives.

Clearly, Souza has put Chico State golf on the map. He was a three-time All-American, and the lone Division II finalist for the 2011 Ben Hogan Award. He won a school-record six tournaments as a senior. Souza was named 2011-2012 California Collegiate Athletic Association Male Athlete of the Year.

It sure seems like Souza and Wente have enjoyed a successful marriage.

"In high school I'd be out there almost every day during the school year," Souza said, "and then over summers Steve let me out there for matches. It definitely helped my game."

He added that the bigger collegiate and amateur tournaments are held on championship-style courses, "and Wente definitely fits that mold because you have to keep your ball in play."

You might call Souza a diamond in the rough, literally and figuratively, as a self-made player from modest financial means.

"My family doesn't belong to a country club or anything," Souza said. "Before high school I was at Las Positas (Golf Course in Livermore), an old muni course. I'd go out there and just chip and putt, and I never really played all that much, or even hit balls. High school was the time I finally got a chance to hit balls a lot."

Ficovich says personality and disposition are what separates the golfers that make it from the rest. Souza has those parts down.

"He handles the moment. He's very good at handling the moment," Ficovich said.

CAL'S VOLLEYBALL 'FAMILY': The California girls volleyball team keeps reeling off victories and enjoying the ride. No soap opera-style drama with this bunch.

Grizzlies coach Todd Baham, in his sixth year heading the program, said the players are all good friends.

"They're kindred spirits and a joy to be around," he said.

The Grizzlies' fine record speaks to the team's talent and work ethic. California entered this week in first place in the EBAL with a 9-1 record, one game ahead San Ramon Valley. The Grizzlies were 22-3 overall entering this week.

Senior Sabrina Clayton is the team's most brilliant player, but senior opposite Stephanie Smith is the Grizzlies' No. 1 captain. She holds a 3.6 grade point average and is a student leader on campus.

Contact Matt Schwab at mschwab@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow him on Twitter @schwab_matt.

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