First-Place, First-Rate, Brandon Gama

One of the great pleasures in raising children in a small community like Montecito is having two small elementary schools like Cold Spring and Montecito Union where parents have the opportunity through smaller class sizes, sports teams, field trips and volunteer opportunities to become acquainted with many children other than their own. Consequently, not only do we take pride in our own children’s accomplishments but those of our friend’s children as they proceed through junior high and high school. Rarely, a day goes by that local newspapers and TV newscasters such as Paula Lopez, Jerry Faul and Mike Klan of KEYT don’t celebrate and honor students’ academic and athletic achievements.

One recent success story that deserves re-mentioning is Montecito and Mt. Carmel alum Brandon Gama, a 21-year-old who is the most recent in a long line of talented amateurs golfers to emerge from the Santa Barbara school system. Growing up in Montecito, Brandon picked up golf at 11 and has been playing ever since. At over six feet tall, he runs to stay loose and stretches religiously and practices daily. He won his first major golf championship recently, at the Municipal Golf Course during its 49th annual Memorial Day weekend event.

With a field of men aged from 11 to 85, “this premiere tournament brings out the strongest field in Southern California” boasts about-to-retire head pro and tournament organizer Richard Chavez. Brandon stood toe to toe in the final foursome with John Pate and Kevin Marsh, two of the finest amateurs from this area. Pate is a six-time winner of the event as well as a former SCGA amateur champion, and Marsh is a two-time winner of the city tournament and played on a national championship team at Pepperdine; he won the United States Mid-Amateur Championship, which qualified him to play in The Masters In Augusta, Georgia. Brandon shot a remarkable 17-under-par total of 193 (64-62-67), shattering the record 196 held since 1983 by Sam Randolph Jr., who went on to win both the California and United States Amateurs Championship. Brandon finished in style with a two-putt birdie on the 18th hole.

Brandon’s older sister Sugey is a graduate of University of San Francisco and his younger sister Jennica is a sophomore at University of San Diego. Over lunch at Los Arroyos on Coast Village Road with Tom Luria, a mentor who coached him in soccer, Brandon speaks glowingly of his strong family ties and the financial support he received from his mom and dad, Silvestre and Teresa and the sacrifices they made on his behalf. “I would not be where I am today without them!” Brandon admits happily.

A graduate of Bishop Diego and their golf team and just having completed two years at SBCC, Brandon is off to ASU in Tempe, Arizona in the fall to be a walk-on for Randy Lean, former coach of Phil Mickelson, to (study/major) in turf management. When asked about turning pro he declined to commit. “It is on my mind for sure,” he admitted, then added, “but for now school is my first priority.”

He has also had the benefit of working with local coaches Don Parsons, Michael Wolseley, Mark Melendez, and Chuck Melendez, his coach at SBCC where their team came in second in the State tournament. Working at local courses such as the Valley Club and Birnam Wood has given him a chance to perfect his putting stroke, which Brandon claims is one of his strengths. “I keep myself as comfortable around the greens as I can,” he says. He also keeps mental notes, not written notes, and admits that Tiger Woods is his hero; Brandon attended the recent U.S. Open at Torrey Pines as a spectator.

Brandon’s next tournaments include the Monterey City championship July 11-13 and the one-day 18-hole U.S. Amateurs regional qualifier tournament at La Cumbre CC on July 28, which is open to the public. If successful, he will play in the Amateurs final field at famed Pinehurst, North Carolina.

It was difficult not to be impressed by this modest young man and by the appreciation he openly expresses for the love and support of his family, peers, coaches and adult mentors. The community will be keeping an eye on Brandon Gama, while he keeps his eye on the ball.

The Aaron C. Robertson Memorial

Losing a sibling of any age is a life-altering experience, but for Montecito resident Kati Robertson, the death from Marfan Syndrome of her beloved brother and best friend Aaron C. Robertson at 29 years old in 2004 changed her forever. After struggling to get her life back on track, Kati and her family are hosting the First Annual Aaron C Robertson Memorial Golf tournament at the oceanfront Sandpiper Golf Course on Saturday July 19 (www.ACRmemorialgolf.com).

Marfan Syndrome is an often fatal genetic disorder of connective tissue that affects many parts of the body, including the skeletal system and the heart. Marfan Syndrome affects men, women, and children, and has been found among people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It is estimated that at least 1 in 5,000 people in the United States have this disorder. People with Marfan Syndrome are often unusually tall with loose joints and disproportionately long legs, arms, and fingers. Many of those with Marfan Syndrome have an enlarged aorta, which leaves them at higher risk for aortic rupture resulting in sudden death. In addition, approximately 25% of those with Marfan Syndrome are like Aaron with no family history; onset of the disease is the result of a gene mutation. The disease often goes undiagnosed because most people haven’t heard of it.

Kati, now a 29-year-old in-house attorney for Citrix Online told me “there is simply no reason any person with Marfan Syndrome should go undiagnosed, because it is within our power to spread the word and change lives.” She hopes the golf tournament with 100% of the net profits from the tournament being donated to the National Marfan Foundation (a 501(c) (3) non-profit) and dedicated specifically to its Education and Awareness programs, will help her spread the word about Marfan Syndrome. To learn more, visit www.marfan.org.

Kati’s aims are modest for this very first annual tournament, but she has been encouraged by the level of support she has already received, especially from Sandpiper management, which has charged her a flat fee per person and has told her not to worry about the number of entrees, that they will work around however many – or few – sign up for the event. Kati continues, however, to enlist sponsors and participants, and hopes for a healthy response.

Regardless of its size, the First Annual Aaron C. Robertson Memorial Golf Tournament will be run like much larger and more established tourneys; each player will receive a goodie bag, lunch, beverages, and snacks; there’ll be a cocktail reception and awards ceremony at the end of the day, and prizes for longest drive, closest to the pin (on par-threes), hole-in-one ($25,000 in cash), a 60-foot putting contest with a $10,000 prize, and a million-dollar shootout (subject to certain conditions and limitations). Registration on the day of the tournament (Saturday, July 19) begins at 10:30 am, and the four-person scramble shotgun start begins at 12:30 pm. Registration deadline is July 7.

To read more about Kati or Aaron, or to register for this event, please log on to www.acrmemorialgolf.com