It's a bit surprising that Robert Stassi turned his attention to golf during those formative years when baseball was all around.
His grandfather, father and uncle all excelled at America's pastime, and while Stassi played high school baseball, it was golf that won the tug of war for his services.
"Growing up in a baseball family, golf was secondary," said Stassi, who was hired this past spring as a golf instructor at Eagle Point Golf Club. "But we played a lot of golf also."
How big was baseball to the family?
Stassi's father's uncle, Myril Hoag, played 14 years in the major leagues, including seven seasons with the New York Yankees and four of those with Babe Ruth.
Stassi re-tells a family story of how Hoag botched a play in right field one day and Ruth approached him afterward in the showers to give him grief. As the tale goes, Hoag "dropped him." Ruth picked himself up, told Hoag to "Come with me," and, said Stassi, "They were inseparable after that."
During a Twin Cities Giants game in Marysville, Calif., Stassi's father played catcher, his uncle played shortstop, his grandfather umped and Stassi was the bat boy.
Further, Stassi has three nephews — they led their high school team in Yuba City, Calif., to a slew of San Joaquin Valley titles — who are prominent in baseball. Two are in minor league ball with the Phillies and Astros, and the other was the No. 2 pitcher for Long Beach State this past spring as a junior.
So, what's with the golf?
Stassi took a job out of high school at Corral De Tierra Country Club in Monterey, Calif., and has been hooked since. The 62-year-old has been learning, playing and teaching the game for more than 40 years.
A native of Yuba City, Stassi has lived most of his life in central and northern California. For the last decade, sans a couple years in Portland, he's lived in Medford, returning here two years ago.
And his gig at Eagle Point is "a dream come true," he said.
"I'm basically retired and doing what I love to do," said Stassi. "Golf and baseball have been in my blood forever. I have an opportunity to do what I love to do. If you go to Eagle Point and look out the pro shop window, that's my office."
Stassi was hired by head professional Patrick Oropallo to work in the pro shop and join him on the instructional end.
Stassi isn't a card-carrying member of the PGA of America but likens himself to old-school pros: Those who didn't make it on tour became club professionals.
Stassi gave pro golf a whirl, too. He tried mini tours in Arizona in the early 2000s "to see how good I could get," then went to Q school in 2004.
"I found out how good I wasn't," he laughed.
In tough conditions at Morongo Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif., he was 18 over par for two rounds. Fifteen-over advanced, he said.
Over the years, he's taken lessons from some big names — Jim Flick, Bob Toski, Jim Langley — absorbing all manner of teaching techniques and philosophies.
"My thing is, I took instruction and dug it out of the dirt," said Stassi. "I've tried everything I teach and I know it works. In today's time, with The Golf Channel and the Internet, it's so easy for people to get out there and get lost in space with the golf swing. My basic foundation comes from trial and error and working with some of the best golf instructors around."
The best teachers, said Oropallo, are able to communicate a complex idea in a simple way.
"Otherwise, you confuse the heck out of people," he said. "If you think about too much, you can't hit a golf ball. Robert doesn't do that to folks."
"He's a great instructor, there's no doubt about it," added Oropallo, "and he's a really personable guy to talk to. He's fun to be around. He's a perfect golf-shop guy — but I don't want to limit him by calling him a golf-shop guy. He's definitely an asset to the facility."
IT WAS IMPRESSIVE enough when teenagers Dylan Wu of Medford and Kevin Murphy of Rogue River made it to the Round of 16 in the difficult Pacific Northwest Men's Amateur Championship this week at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.
Their performances were amplified on the final day, when the two players who ousted them squared off for the title.
Cameron Peck, who went 20 holes to beat Wu, 16, on Tuesday, claimed the title with a 7-and-6 rout of Hans Reimers. Reimers had knocked out Murphy, 5 and 4.
Until the tournament, Wu had been looking to turn his game around.
"This was probably my best tournament of the year," said the St. Mary's senior to be, who has committed to play for Northwestern. "Before this, I hadn't been playing well at all. I've been working on my game and keeping it simple. This tournament was a really good breakthrough."
Both physically and emotionally. He hit the ball well, his putting improved each day as he grew accustomed to the differences in the greens at the two courses used — Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails — and he kept his composure.
He was pleased with "just the way I handled myself when I was down," he said.
For instance, against Kyle Schrader in his second match, Wu missed an 8-foot putt to halve the hole.
"I didn't overreact," he said. "I stayed calm and told myself I need to make birdie to win the next hole."
He did, then defeated Schrader one hole later.
Peck was a tough cookie. Wu had heard of him and was a tad nervous at the start. His mother checked online for Peck's credentials.
"He has a pretty big resume," said Wu.
In 2008, Peck was the U.S. Junior Amateur champion and Rolex junior player of the year. The recent Texas A&M graduate earlier this summer won the Washington State Amateur.
Wu enjoyed playing his Olympia, Wash., opponent; the two have competed in many of the same national junior tournaments.
"We talked about all that," said Wu.
Wu's nerves subsided after both players birdied the first hole and parred the second. Peck won the next two for his largest advantage, but Wu pulled even and kept it tight the rest of the way.
Peck triumphed on the second playoff hole with a 20-foot birdie putt, moments after Wu missed a 25-footer.
The field began with 168 very good players.
Despite shooting 79 in 30- to 35-mph winds in the opening round of stroke play, Wu knew he belonged.
"I knew if I played my game and played well, I was good enough to play with these players," he said. "If I could make it to match play, at that point, anything can happen. It doesn't matter what seed your are. The first seed lost to the 64th seed. With the conditions at Bandon, it shows all your weaknesses, so it doesn't give any player an advantage over anyone else."
THE FIRST PHASE of our "Build a Course" project is complete, with eight par-4 holes advancing to the final round of par-4 voting.
To recap, we're asking you to go to www.mailtribune.com/golfcourse and pick your five favorite holes from a list. Vote as often as you like. Ultimately, we'll have 18 holes — 10 par 4s, four par 3s and four par 5s — and put them together for our Rogue Valley dream course.
Here are the par 4s, listed alphabetically, that move to a final vote (there are three times as many par 4s as the others so they'll be determined in segments):
Centennial No. 3, Eagle Point Nos. 2 and 5, Rogue Valley Country Club outside Nos. 3 and 5, Stone Ridge Nos. 4 and 5 and RVCC inside No. 2.
This week's holes are all the par 3s. There will only be one week of voting for them, so make yours count.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org