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HART NO LOCK FOR TITLE IN FORD'S FINAL ROUND.

Byline: DAVE SHELBURNE Golf

It's been a great run for Short Game Ford, who hopes only for a strong sprint in the stretch now.

Hart High of Newhall golf coach Dennis Ford, whose varsity teams have not lost a Foothill League match on the golf course since he inherited the program in 1990, will retire in June with his instructional legacy as solidly established as the chipping and putting skills that have underscored Hart's dominance for more than a decade.

Ford, 60, enters his final season having produced 10 league team titles and more than a half-dozen individuals who have reached the Southern Section finals - one of whom, Jason Gore, is now on the PGA Tour.

But if history has favored Hart, the future - perhaps the immediate future - looks at best uncertain for the Indians.

District rival Valencia, so loaded with young talent that two freshmen and a sophomore are expected to compete for leadership of a team facing the strongest schedule in school history, could give Hart all it can handle in Ford's final season.

Valencia's top players are freshmen Brandon Christianson and Greg Gauvin, sophomore Eric Thomas and improved junior Doug Darcey. The Vikings also come in as defending league champs, courtesy of a postseason Hart forfeiture for using an ineligible player.

Hart will counter with a solid top four - junior Brian Edick, seniors Josh Vanek and Andy Smith and sophomore Joey Kroagman - leading a team Ford admits remains unfirm with the opening match less than four weeks away.

``This year is going to be a crap shoot,'' he said. ``We have four pretty strong players, maybe really strong. But after that, I don't know. We've got four-sixths of a team right now.''

But his Indians also have the intangible of past success so overwhelming that, prior to last season, Hart had not only never lost a varsity league match during Ford's tenure but also won every league junior varsity match on his watch.

Confidence bred of that kind of domination is hard to overrate, and few things are more important than confidence in golf. It could make for an eventful final season for Ford, who likely will be aided again by past players - the ghosts, he calls them - reminding current players of The History.

That history, Ford said, started suddenly with his good fortune of having Gore, Mike Miller and Shane O'Brien on his first Hart team. Gore nearly won an individual state title as a freshman and the three long hitters got Hart to the section team final.

``Those three big guns kind of primed the pump,'' Ford said. ``They got it started and others have been trying to shoot at their records ever since.''

The continuing chase of Hart ghosts has produced some remarkable golf on the Indians' home course at Vista Valencia and elsewhere:

In 1995, Brian Buck delivered a 5-under-par 65 at De Bell, breaking his 8-iron on a shot that wound up an eagle from the fairway; 1999 graduate Charlie Wyman and eventual 1997 U.S. Open finalist Jason Semelsberger share the Indians record of sub-par rounds at 16; Wyman also tied Gore's individual school record at Vista Valencia of 5-under-par 56; that same day in 1999, Wyman combined with Edick (61), Jeff Siembieda (62), Smith (62) and David Sullivan (63) for a school-record team score of 1-under-par 304 at Vista Valencia.

The continuing talent has been both acknowledged and honed by Ford, whose emphasis on short-game skills has led to some legendary drills. Gore, for instance, found himself in weekly attempts to get up and down from off the green for 14 consecutive practice-green holes after innocently asking Ford what he could do to get better.

``Try to do twice as much as anyone else,'' Ford told his captain. ``If they hit a bucket of balls, you hit two buckets. If they try to get up and down seven times in a row (as Hart players have attempted to do in weekly drills throughout the Ford reign), you try 14.''

The drills paid off. Before Gore graduated in 1993, he shot 7-under-par for nine holes in a league match at Alhambra.

``It seems he always has six, seven or eight kids who are absolutely fabulous golfers,'' Valencia coach Rusty Swisher said of Ford. ``We always look forward to that in league. And I think it's great, because I love the competition.''

So does Ford.

``It's fun, or I wouldn't be doing it,'' said the two-time Vista Valencia men's club champion and its current president, a teacher at Hart since 1970. ``It's just time for somebody really young to take over.''

The old coach, however, will do his best to bring home one more championship before he leaves.

--Names in the game: Short-game guru Dave Pelz has made Lost Canyons GC in Simi Valley the Los Angeles-Ventura County base for his Scoring Game Tour, with the first session of six-hour clinics scheduled for March 7-18. Information: (800) 833-7370. . . . Also in March, Lost Canyons is expected to open its Shadow Course, the second half of a 36-hole, Pete Dye-designed layout that debuted in November with the opening of the Sky Course. . . . Craig Kessler, president of the Public Links Golf Association of Southern California the past three years, replaces the retired Jim Dout as that organization's executive director this year. Chuck Jorgensen assumes role as president.

ON THE GREEN

PGA TOUR

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach

--Course: Pebble Beach Golf Links (6,848 yards, par 72)

--Schedule: Today through Sunday

--Purse: $4 million, $720,000 to winner

--TV: USA Network (today and Friday, 1-3 p.m.); CBS (Saturday, noon-3 p.m.; Sunday, noon-3:30 p.m.)

SENIOR PGA TOUR

BellRoyal Caribbean Classic at Key Biscayne, Fla.

--Course: Crandon Park GC (6,846 yards, par 72)

--Schedule: Friday through Sunday

--Purse: $1.4 million, $210,000 to winner

--TV: PAX (Friday, 10 a.m.-noon) and CNBC (Friday, 3-5 p.m.)

LPGA TOUR

--Next event: LPGA Takefuji Classic, Feb. 8-10. Kona CC, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

GREENS IN REGULATION

PGA

1. Robert Gamez .833

Hal Sutton .833

3. John Huston .819

3. Mike Sposa .819

5. Justin Leonard .815

LPGA

1. Karrie Webb .772

2. Kelly Robbins .756

3. Kellee Booth .722

Karen Weiss .722

Audra Burks .722

SENIOR PGA

1. Doug Tewell .875

2. Bruce Fleisher .833

3. Gary McCord .815

4. Leonard Thompson .796

5. Jim Thorpe .778

SPOTLIGHT

MARK CALCAVECCHIA

The second-best putter on the 2001 PGA Tour rolled in 11 birdies in the second round of the Phoenix Open and kept up his strong play throughout a tour-record, 28-under-par showing good for $720,000 and the lowest 72-hole total on tour in 42 years. Calcavecchia's second-round 60 tied a tournament record, his 125 midway total tied a tour 36-hole record, and his 256 total broke the 1955 tour record set by Mike Souchak at the Texas Open.

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Box: ON THE GREEN (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Words:1157
Previous Article:PUBLIC FORUM LAPD ATTRITION RATE.
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