(Photo by PD)

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
 

Raise the stakes? No problem as the Santa Rosa Junior College men’s golf team returns to the state championship today.
Only four teams — two from the north and a pair out of the south — are vying for the title compared with eight a year ago. SRJC is on the short list and aiming to shave a few shots off last year’s score, when the Bear Cubs finished just five strokes off the lead.
 

“It’s real competitive,” said Patrick Steiner, a former Windsor High standout who is the Bear Cubs’ low scorer on the season. “If we can all pull it together and play like we know how to play, we can win state.”
Stamina, both physical and mental, will be tested with the teams playing 36 holes — two rounds — on a single day at the Santa Maria Country Club.
 

The SRJC six will get course tips from captain Chris Gregus, who played Santa Maria four years ago with Cardinal Newman at the California prep championships. They also will play the course today.
“We’re confident in our game when we step on the course,” Gregus said.
Confident yet not cocky is this Bear Cubs pack that kept the program among the state’s best with only one returning player — Gregus — from last season’s starting lineup.
 

Winning the Big 8 Conference title achieved SRJC’s first season goal. The Bear Cubs finished one spot short of their quest for the Northern California Regional Championship
 

“There’s a lot of determination with everyone on the team,” Gregus said.
 

Leading the Bear Cubs are All-NorCal players Steiner and Brendan Warner, from Angels Camp. The team, though, is deeply talented with each of the six capable of carding the day’s low round. “We’re real deep,” Steiner said. “We’re always competing to be No. 1.”
 

There also are four Bear Cubs working hard to make the traveling team next season. They push the scoring six in practice rounds, and the players take time to help one another sharpen their games.
“We all want to see each other succeed. If we’re all trying to work together the team will play good,” Gregus said. “We’re very unified and there’s a lot of serenity. You definitely need that on the course.”
Steiner has improved his short game since high school. Getting near the green isn’t a problem. Limiting shots to get in the hole is the challenge.
 

“You can be a good ball striker, but to be a good player you have to shoot well around the green,” Steiner said. “I’ve started off so many rounds bad and I’ve just hung in there and knew I could make a couple of birdies and get back.”
Swinging better has helped Gregus play at a higher level the past two seasons. Hard work is critical to playing confident, as Gregus learned after not making the Chico State team despite twice finishing among the top handful of state prep players with Cardinal Newman.
 

“You always have to stay on your toes and try to get better. You have to practice, practice and practice,” he said.
Working with coaches and playing amateur tournaments in addition to more than a dozen tournaments in the spring season steadies players’ nerves and stokes confidence.
 

“You play a lot and get the feel to play in big tournaments,” Steiner said.
 

Santa Rosa needs a little swagger going into the state championships. Chabot College, from the north, won last year’s state title. College of the Canyons and Desert College, out of the south, have five titles between them.
Having played Santa Maria in the state prep championships, Gregus has some tips for his teammates. Hit the ball straight to stay out of thick rough and prepare for fast greens.
 

“We know we’re a good team,” Gregus said. “Winning it wouldn’t be too bad.”
 

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470.