By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Swinging a crooked stick for the first time as a teen-ager, Steven Warne was late to golf, yet he is making up for lost time.
A pretty good player at El Molino High, Warne honed his shots to lead Sonoma State this fall after a player-of-the-year season with Santa Rosa Junior College.
“I’ve been growing steadily. The mental side is most important. I’m better at course management, playing smart,” said Warne, aiming for another postseason spot.
Heading into the spring campaign, Warne wants to lead Sonoma State back to the NCAA tournament and even a shot at the program’s second national title. Warne was the lone Seawolves player to compete in the fall season’s NCAA Division II Men’s Central/West Region championship.
“It was just a matter of seeing himself on that stage,” said Sonoma State coach Val Verhunce. “Steven is very motivated on his goals this year and has worked extremely hard to set himself aside as a premier player.”
Long has been the road traveled to the top of the Sonoma State leaderboard.
Not until Warne’s sophomore year in high school did he take up golf. Most players, such as recent Empire prep great and teammate Matt Medeiros, begin playing when as tall as clubs.
“I started playing with dad after church on Sundays and it took my life away,” Warne said.
At El Molino he was one of the better Sonoma County League golfers. Good though he was, Warne wanted more in college.
After sitting out a year at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, the determined Warne returned to play at Santa Rosa JC. In his second season, Warne was Big Eight Conference player of the year.
Helping lead SRJC into the elite of California community college golf set up Warne for a shot at Sonoma State.
Warne had the game to play at the next level.
“Steven is a very mature player who knows how to get a lot out of a round,” Verhunce said.
From the start, Warne helped lead Sonoma State in match play.
While not the longest hitter, Warne is among the surest.
In his first year at Sonoma State, Warne competed in a team-high 33 rounds, averaging a score of 75.8 per round.
One bad round of three at the NCAA regional knocked Warne out of contention for a championship tournament spot. Lesson learned as Warne approached his senior campaign.
“The competition is deep,” Warne said. “It takes consistent good play to finish well.”
More dedicated in team weight room workouts and practicing as ever this summer and fall, Warne didn’t leave any doubt about his determination to take Sonoma State back to the NCAA tournament. The fall season’s absence ended a run of six consecutive Seawolves regional berths. Sonoma State won the NCAA Division II title in 2009.
“This year our goal is to get to nationals,” Warne said. “That was my biggest disappointment last year. I don’t want to have that feeling again.”
To sharpen his game, Warne has steadied his short strokes, from fairway to green. He is less emotional.
Competition in practice with teammates provides the greatest challenge.
“We’re all pretty comparable. My teammates love competing,” Warne said.
Watch out for grandpa. Warne, at 23, is the senior statesman of the Seawolves.
That should be a good thing.
Having already shaved more than two strokes off last season’s average, Warne could be poised for great results as a team leader this spring championship season. Two strokes lower can mean a top 10 finish.
“Last year I felt I was one of the guys in the middle of the pack,” Warne said. “Coming into this year I want to be one of the guys the players are looking up to.”