Tracing Tracy Territory: Local gets close-up look at world's best
by Sam Matthews / Tracy Press publisher emeritus
Jun 25, 2010 | 5568 views | 1 1 comments | 114 114 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Millions of golf fans around the world were glued to their television sets last weekend to watch the final rounds of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

Steve Lopez wasn’t one of them.

Instead, the now-retired West High football coach watched the golf action unfold before his own eyes at the 15th hole, where he served as a marshal.

“It was really great to see how good the players in the Open are,” Steve said. “They have such smooth swings and hit the ball a ton.”

But, he added, Pebble Beach, especially when the wind came up, presented a real challenge to the players. Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who wound up winning the tourney, finished at even par — unusual for a professional golf tournament where sub-par rounds are common.

While McDowell gained a following on succeeding days as he moved to the top rung of the leader board, two players drew the biggest crowds that followed them from hole to hole, Steve reported.

No surprise. He was talking about Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Both golf super-stars had a shot at the title but fell short on the final day.

“There were more people than you could imagine following Tiger and Phil,” Steve said. “When they moved on to the next hole, they moved on, and there was hardly anyone left to watch the next group.”

On Friday, as Steve was on the side of the fifth fairway, Michelson hit a drive 8 feet away from him.

Steve became a volunteer marshal for the U.S. Open by responding to a query from the Northern California Golf Association asking members to apply. Steve did, and he was selected.

He reported each noon of the four-day tournament at the California State University, Monterey Bay, campus (think Fort Ord), where he boarded a bus to Pebble Beach.

He was assigned different positions at the 15th hole, from near the tee box to out on the fairway, keeping galleries in place and informing spectators who didn’t have a good view of the fairway where the balls had been hit.

“Play continued to around 8 o’clock in the evening, so it was a long day,” he said. “The first day, I had to stand all day — and that was really tiring — so I went out and bought a folding chair. That made the job a whole lot more enjoyable the next couple days.”

In two years, the U.S. Open returns to Northern California, at the San Francisco Olympic Club.

“Yes, I think I’ll apply to be a marshal then, too.” Steve said. “For a guy who likes to play golf, it’s a great experience.”

A crash mystery

Why a single-engine Cessna 172 made a series of wide turns and then crashed near Angels Camp on Monday morning, killing the pilot, is still an unanswered question.

But, sadly, Tracyite Bill Miller figures the pilot, Charles “Chuck” Swanson, must have suffered a heart attack or stroke that sent the plane out of control and into the ground.

Swanson, a 59-year-old Modesto resident, was Bill and Betty Miller’s son-in-law, married to their daughter, Bonnie.

“There must have been some kind of medical problem,” Bill told me. “That’s the only explanation I can think of. Chuck was an experienced pilot and wasn’t doing any stunt flying in a Cessna 172.”

The question might be answered when an autopsy is performed, but in the meantime, the family is devastated. Chuck Swanson operated a custom metal-fabricating business in Ceres that produces specialized equipment for wineries and orchards. Only a week earlier, he was among family members, including Bill and Betty, attended the marriage of daughter Melissa in Hood River, Ore.

A Marine valve job

On a more positive note, many Tracyites will be happy to hear that John J. Serpa is recovering in good fashion after undergoing heart-valve-replacement surgery June 17 at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City.

Daughter Gayleen Serpa reports that her dad is out of the intensive-care unit and in a regular hospital room. The World War II Marine Corps veteran of the Battle of Okinawa and former Tracy police captain is expected to be home in the near future.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at

Comments-icon Post a Comment
June 26, 2010
The scots can bring us golf, but the brits can't bring us cricket? What's wrong with this country?

We encourage readers to share online comments in this forum, but please keep them respectful and constructive. This is not a space for personal attacks, libelous statements, profanity or racist slurs. Comments that stray from the topic of the story or are found to contain abusive language are subject to removal at the Press’ discretion, and the writer responsible will be subject to being blocked from making further comments and have their past comments deleted. Readers may report inappropriate comments by e-mailing the editor at