Brian Helton walked off the 18th green to an exuberant cheer from the crowd. After a two-shot victory in the 53rd annual Santa Barbara City Golf Championship hosted by the Santa Barbara Golf Club, he could hardly walk three steps without someone patting him on the back or shaking his hand. Helton grew up in Santa Barbara and is known in the community from his days playing for both San Marcos High School and UCSB.
Two-time defending champion Andrew Perez gained his professional status this year, making him ineligible to play in an amateur tournament. The field was comprised of 80 amateurs who satisfied the tournament requirements with a confirmed handicap of less than two strokes. Of those 80, only 26 made the cut to play on Memorial Day to fight it out for the $750 shop credit prize.
The final day of the three-day tournament started in a three-way tie between Helton, Shane Lebow, and Brandon B. Gama. Lebow, now a member of the Stanford golf team, once was a student of Helton’s. Their history together kept Helton on edge until the very last stroke.
“Coming down 18, I was pretty nervous,” Helton said. “I thought Shane was going to make birdie, and I had that putt for par.”
The tournament was an occasion for Helton to reflect on his history with Lebow. “I used to teach Shane. I watched him grow up and become a real good player.” The classic battle of student versus teacher was not lost on Helton, who remarked, “There’s some sort of allegory in there somewhere.” Helton’s win came in his second time competing in the City Championship.
In the final holes of the tournament, it was ultimately Helton’s experience that paid off. He made birdie on the 15th hole, where Lebow bogeyed, giving Helton a one-stroke lead, which he never relinquished. The most significant shot came on the 18th hole, where he hit a tough bunker shot onto the green to save par.
With the top of the leader board so tightly contested by so much local talent, the tournament saw an exceptionally large turnout coming into the final day. Although he now lives in Shandon, east of Paso Robles, Helton appreciated the support he received from his former community. “It’s fun to play in front of people, fun to have people clap for you when you make a good shot,” Helton said. “It’s exciting.”