For two local golfers, this week signifies another opportunity for continued growth in their professional careers.
Manav Shah and Neil Bautista, Centennial High School graduates who each played last year on the Canadian Tour, will take the course for the fifth annual Motor City Bakersfield Open. The tournament, which marks the Golden State Tour’s first competition of 2018, will be played Wednesday through Friday at Bakersfield Country Club.
“Business as usual for me,” Shah said of his approach this week. “My goals every time I tee it up is to give myself the best opportunity to win. I try to do that week-in and week-out. If I play my game the way I know how, I should be in contention coming down the stretch.”
Said Bautista, “Go out there, have fun, enjoy myself playing in front of my parents...If I stick to my game, I’m looking forward to it, and should have a chance on Friday.”
Both have interesting stories getting to this point of their professional careers.
For Shah, it was starring at Centennial, where he won BVarsity Boys Golf Player of the Year his junior and senior seasons, and took home a Central Section championship as a junior.
After that, Shah would play at University of San Diego, where he was recruited by then-head coach Tim Mickelson — the brother of PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson.
Tim Mickelson would eventually become head coach at Arizona State, however, and Shah would transfer to UCLA following his 2010-11 freshman season.
During his senior year with the Bruins, UCLA reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championships, where the team eventually lost to Illinois.
Shah said when he was a collegiate his teams qualified for the NCAA Championships every year, and that at one point he was ranked as high as No. 22 in the world amateur rankings. He added that his success at every level of golf — from high school through college — helped build confidence that he could in fact play professionally, and one day reach the PGA Tour.
“With hard work and patience, then everything will fold out the way it should,” Shah said of his learning experience.
Shah has played on the Canadian Tour the past two years, adding his 2016 season was slightly better than last year. That season, Shah had three top-10 finishes and earned just over $27,000. He finished the season ranked No. 22 on the tour.
A top-10 overall finish in the Canadian Tour standings can be a significant boost for a player’s chances of reaching the Web.com Tour which, in turn, is essentially one step away from the PGA Tour.
“It gets you prepared for the web and PGA,” Shah said of competing in Canada. “There have been countless guys that have made that jump. So it gives you a pretty good road map of what you need to do moving forward.”
As for Bautista, he was a four-year varsity player at Centennial. During that time, he was a team captain for the Golden Hawks, part of the 2011 CIF Central Section championship squad, and named a BVarsity All-Area first team member.
Bautista would then walk-on at Fresno State, where he took the course in 23 of a possible 24 tournaments and was named was a Cleveland/Srixon All-American Scholar.
“Had to fight my way onto team and was able to get in the lineup,” Baustista said.
After graduating in 2015, Bautista turned pro at the outset of 2016 and has been taking the course in professional tournaments ever since.
Bautista said he’s made eight of his last 10 cuts, and that his “game and career are trending in the right direction.”
Last year he played in some qualifying rounds of the Canadian Tour and also found his way onto the Circuit Canada Tour. One of his better outings came in the Canada Cup in mid-August, when he shot a 65 on the opening day of the tournament and found himself in the second-to-last playing group over the weekend.
His goals in 2018 are to qualify for the Canadian Tour and, hopefully, the Web.com and PGA tours after that.
“It was a great learning experience,” he said of his past year professionally. “Learning how to travel. Figured out what I do under pressure and what I do when a couple thousand people are watching. To that point, I hadn’t experienced that in professional golf.”
There will be a Pro-Am event Tuesday at Bakersfield Country Club, with tournament play officially teeing off Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. The Bakersfield Open will feature 72 professional golfers from across California and other areas on the west coast, playing for an expected purse of $40,000.