Local golf champion, Lolo Saldana, looks back

Above Photo by Kristy Throndson Lolo Saldana holds a picture of himself from the 1949 Western States Conference Championship Tournament. Below left, Saldana lines up a putt at the Bobby Jones Invitational and bottom left is the newspaper write-up of the victory.

With the Masters Golf Tournament crowning another champion last weekend and local product Gabriel Hernandez chasing his golf dream in the recent Pro Golf Tour of India’s DGC Open, it seemed like a good time to look back at one of Catalina’s first stars of golf, local favorite Lolo Saldana.

Saldana became the first islander to win the Bobby Jones Invitational on Catalina, 20 years after it began, in 1951. A then 21-year-old Saldana shot a 201 over 54 holes to win the tournament by two strokes. As an invitational, it had some recognizable names in the field, like Mickey Rooney and Johnny Weissmuller.

“It was awesome,” Saldana said of the victory.

The tournament had begun in 1931, when the course had 18 holes, with Jones himself in attendance to present the winner his trophy. By 1951, World War II had caused stalled upkeep to take the course back to nine holes. Jones had given William Wrigley Jr. permission to continue to use his name on the tournament. It was one of four tournament that had been granted permission by Jones, according to Saldana.

Saldana had become pretty good high school golfer for Avalon School, but as one of 11 children he had no intention of going to college, and that was what he told his high school coach Delbert Walker.

“I’m not that smart of a man anyway,” Saldana said he told Walker.

But Walker talked to the coaches at Long Beach City College and got Saldana into the school on a scholarship after his graduation in 1948. It worked out well, as Saldana went on to win the Western State Conference championship in his first year. That put him on the radar of the program at Cal Poly San Luis Obisbo.

“After that, my golf just blossomed,” Saldana said

He was offered a scholarship to Poly and after defeating their No. 1 golfer at the San Luis Obisbo County Championships, the No. 1 player left school to join the Army, putting Saldana in the No. 1 slot for Cal Poly. During the season he said they played big schools like USC and UCLA and the coaches had plans to shoot high in the next year, with Saldana in the No. 1 spot.

Saldana also developed a friendship with former PGA player and broadcaster Ken Venturi, who was then the No. 1 player at San Jose State University.

But Saldana had plans of his own. Despite his coaches’ pleas to continue with school, Lolo also decided to join the Army and the rest is history. But Lolo remembers fondly, his time competing on the course.

“I was just a little guy, but I beat some pretty good players,” Saldana said.

By the way, Hernandez, from Avalon, struggled in the first round of the DGC, where three bogey or worse holes led to a first-round 93. He did bounce back in the second round, where he dropped 12 strokes off his score with a round of 81.