All this razzing was good-natured, but there was some serious sniping about just how publinksy some of the competitors were. Many, if not most, of the college players have a private club as their home course, at least for nine months a year. This does not affect their eligibility for the Publinks, though, because the USGA considers such a privilege to be incidental if it's provided by an educational institution. Ditto if the access is provided by "an industry by which [the player] is employed or retired." Hasibar, for instance, can play year-round at swanky Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., because he works in the bag room there. There are also the so-called touring amateurs, like Thomas, who played in five big-time amateur events in the last six weeks, all at private clubs. "You've got to look pretty hard to find a true public links golfer around here," said one of the few, Thorn Piscopink, 48, who lays carpet for a living and plays once a week.
Even Hogarth came in for some criticism because he had turned pro shortly after graduating from Cal State-Northridge in 1990. During two seasons knocking around the Golden State mini-tour, he won five tournaments and nearly $10,000. His amateur status was restored in April after he sat out for three years. But it's pretty hard to question his credentials considering how strong his ties are to Van Nuys. At 13 he was picking up the baskets at the driving range in exchange for all the balls he could hit. At 15 Hogarth got paid to work the range, and a year later he was promoted to the counter at the adjacent miniature golf course. He worked for two more years in the shop at the big course, and during his touring years he worked at Van Nuys as a teaching pro. "Everything I know about golf I've learned there," he says. That's saying a lot, considering the longest hole at Van Nuys is 140 yards.
The night before he earned his national championship, Hogarth was relaxing by the water at his oceanfront resort. Carefully he pushed aside the pineapple slice and the little magenta umbrella and took a big swig of his pi�a colada. His eyes settled on the azure waters of the Pacific. "I am," he said, after a pause, "a long way from home."