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GOLFER FOR HIRE; MATTHEW LANE JUST WANTS TO PLAY.

Byline: Dave Shelburne Staff Writer

There are a lot of good golfers out there, and no one is more acutely aware of that than Matthew Lane.

The 30-year-old Agoura Hills resident won the New Zealand Open earlier this year but remains a man without regular playing privileges on any professional tour.

``I'm in a situation where I've won a nice tournament and don't have anywhere to play,'' said Lane, a transplanted New Zealander who played college golf on scholarship at Oklahoma University.

The former Kiwi, who completed his college career in 1990, has been trying since then to earn a living as a professional player - this summer on the Canadian Tour via sponsors' exemptions.

``The Canadian Tour has been great to me,'' said Lane, who finished 16th, 11 and third in his first three events this year. ``They've got 18 (sponsors') invitations each week compared to two on the Nike Tour. When you've got 18, you've got a good chance of getting in.''

Lane, who grew up in Wellington, N.Z., has lived in the Conejo Valley since meeting his wife, Terri, who was reared in the area. They now have two children, and Lane - who played the past four years on the Nike Tour but has no current full-time status - was thinking of giving up his pro dream seven months ago.

Then, his father Bob offered to pay airfare to this year's New Zealand Open. Lane took the trip, only to learn when arriving at Formosa GC in Auckland that he had to qualify.

``I went halfway around the world and had to play a Monday qualifier to get in,'' he said, ``but in the end it made it more satisfying.''

The end also had its drama, as Lane broke out of a three-way tie for first to finish eagle-par-birdie in a final-round 64. It earned him a three-stroke victory over a field that included former Masters champion Bernhard Langer.

``It's not just any Mickey Mouse tournament,'' said former Australian tour player Mel Lewis, a 30-year New Zealand PGA member who is now tournament director at Tarzana's Braemar Country Club. ``World-class players play in the New Zealand Open, and Matthew did well to win it. I know he's going to break through one of these days.''

Lewis' hunch is shared by members at Braemar, where Lane practices and holds the east-course record of 61, and at Calabasas Country Club, where Lane also holds the course record at 62.

``He's a player, no doubt about that,'' said Calabasas head pro Dave Bartholomew.

``I wish I had just one quarter of his talent,'' said Lewis, who knew Lane's father while growing up in New Zealand and helped secure practice privileges for Lane at Braemar.

``He's got so much potential,'' Lewis said. ``I played three years on the Australasian Tour and against Bob Charles when we were kids. I've played with a lot of good players and I've never seen anybody who had the potential and natural talent this guy's got.''

As an example, Lewis recalls the day Lane was hitting practice wedge shots to a green from 80 yards, never looking up but calling out the yardage of each shot, short or long, and seldom missing with those estimates.

Lane, who once shot 60 in a Nike Tour event at the Greensboro Open, hopes his New Zealand Open success can springboard him to full-time status at this year's PGA Tour qualifying school.

In the meantime, he'll take work wherever he can find it.

``If it means going to Canada, then that's what I'll do,'' he said. ``Golf is such a crazy game.''

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Matthew Lane won the New Zealand Open earlier this year but is not on any tour.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 21, 1999
Words:628
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