Californian into semifinals for first time in a USGA championship October 5, 2010 By David Shefter, USGA

Jeff Burda rallied from an early 3-down deficit to earn a spot in the USGA Senior Amateur semifinals on Wednesday at Lake Nona. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)

Orlando, Fla. – For years, Jeff Burda hated to travel. He couldn’t stand the thought of sitting for long periods of time on an airplane or living out of his suitcase in hotels.

Forget about accumulating miles or points; Burda preferred to be home in Modesto, Calif., being around his job and family.

So even being a standout golfer within the Northern California Golf Association, Burda disdained taking his game national, outside of a few USGA championships. You simply wouldn’t find him at the Western Amateur, Porter Cup, Sunnehanna, Crump Cup or Northeast Amateur.

Now that he’s reached the senior level (55 and over), Burda has changed his outlook and, perhaps, his fortunes.

Last year, he competed in the Senior Division of the Crump Cup at Pine Valley prior to the USGA Senior Amateur. It led to a round-of-16 effort at Beverly Country Club. This year, he went back to the Crump Cup in early September, qualified for the top senior flight and defeated the likes of Steve Smyers and Pat Tallent before losing to eventual champion Marvin Vinny Giles.

That success has continued this week at the USGA Senior Amateur, where Burda now sits just two wins away from the championship after a 3-and-2 quarterfinal-round comeback over 2002 champion Greg Reynolds Wednesday morning at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club.

That was a huge aid coming in here, said the 57-year-old Burda of playing the Crump Cup, which also has stroke-play qualifying followed by several rounds of match play. I’ve played in that [event] the last two years and my match-play ability, which I would say was mediocre at best, has improved a lot.

Case in point: Wednesday’s match against Reynolds, where Burda lost the first three holes, but remained calm and eventually turned around his fortunes. The 63-year-old Reynolds, the oldest player among the final eight, certainly didn’t help himself by registering bogeys at 10, 12, 13 and 14 to go from 2 up to 2 down.

Burda then shut the door by holing a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-5 15th hole to go dormie-3. A two-putt par at No. 16 ended the match.

I was in the same position last year [at Beverly Country Club] with Mark Bemowski [in the round of 16], said Burda. I birdied the first three holes and wound up losing the match (2 down).

Being three down after three is a lot better than being three down after nine. I needed a little help from him and I got it. But I played solid on the back nine.

Even though Burda didn’t travel much, he is one of the legendary players in Northern California. Dating back to the 1974 Northern California Golf Association Public Links, he’s won an NCGA title in each of the past five decades. According to the NCGA website, he’s the only player to win an NCGA major in five separate decades after his 2010 NCGA Senior title at Spyglass Hill.

That just tells you how old I am, said Burda. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. I’ve been playing a long time and obviously have had some success. It’s been great.

What’s interesting is Burda never played golf in high school. Like a lot of kids in the late 1960s/early ‘70s, he played football, basketball and baseball. But he dabbled in golf during the summer months. When it came time to choose a college, he only applied to two – Santa Clara and the University of Notre Dame – and despite developing a disdain for travel, chose to leave Northern California for the Midwest. He walked onto the men’s golf team and eventually captained the squad for two seasons. He even qualified as an individual for the 1974 NCAA Golf Championship held in Columbus, Ohio.

So meeting former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz at the Sweet Sixteen dinner Tuesday night at Lake Nona was a treat for Burda, who watched the Fighting Irish claim two national football titles while in school.

We talked about the glory days, said Burda. We had a nice chat.

The bitter Midwest winters, however, drove Burda back to Modesto, where he got involved with community banking and started a family. He was the CEO of a couple local banks before starting on in 1998 that was sold five years later to the Bank of Stockton, another community bank where Burda is still employed.

With his career and family in good shape, Burda started playing more competitive golf. At the 2001 U.S. Mid-Amateur at San Joaquin Country Club in Fresno, Calif., he advanced to the third round before dropping a 5-and-4 decision to Ken Kellaney.

But that can’t compare to the dynamic run he’s had at Lake Nona. Even though Burda admittedly struggled with his ball-striking in the two stroke-play qualifying rounds (he shot 4-over 148), he figured out his alignment problem prior to his first-round match Monday against fellow Californian Brad Larsen. He’s cruised from there for his best showing ever at a USGA championship.

 A win Thursday afternoon over No. 2 seed Paul Simson would get him a spot in the championship match.

So maybe this cross-country traveling is a good thing.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.