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Tuesday, August 20, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gone Fishin' For Now

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

BILL SANDER WON the U.S. Amateur 20 years ago. Today, after a frustrating career on the PGA Tour, he's an avid angler and only an occasional golfer, but he does enjoy the game again.

Bill Sander, the Lake Forest Park native who surprised the golfing world by winning the 1976 U.S. Amateur at age 20, has a fishing pole instead of a golf club in his hands these days.

Sander, 40, lives in Tallahassee, Fla., his home for the past 11 years.

"Fishing is more than a hobby," he said in a telephone interview. "It's something I live for."

Sander said he plays golf only about once a month.

His last PGA Tour event in a 15-year stint as a professional was in 1993, when his faltering career finally ended because of a wrist injury.

Sander was the first of two Seattle golf prodigies of the 1970s. The other was Fred Couples, who went on to become one of the most famous players in the game. Sander's star peaked that day in Los Angeles when he won the U.S. Amateur by beating Parker Moore Jr. of Laurens, S.C., 8 and 6 in the 36-hole final. It was the biggest margin of victory in an Amateur final since Jack Nicklaus' triumph in 1961.

Sander's name was added to a trophy that bore the names of Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler and Jack Westland, the Everett golfer who won in 1952 and was elected to Congress a few months later.

Sander never won on the PGA Tour. He had two second-place finishes and career earnings of $823,426.

Looking back, Sander said his biggest regret is that he was too quick to seek and heed advice about his swing.

When he was the best amateur in the nation, Sander played his style "and didn't really listen to anybody.

"As soon as I got on tour, it seemed like I started tinkering," he said. "That tinkering snowballed over the 15 years I was out there. I can't remember a year when I wasn't trying this or trying that. That wasn't the way I grew up playing."

When he won the Amateur, Sander had a backswing so extreme he could see the club out of his left eye. When he turned pro, Sander said, people "told me that was wrong, and I took it to heart and was always messing with my swing instead of saying, `Hey, that's me, let's go play.'

"I had played a very natural game, and then I tried to become too mechanical. It wasn't right for me.

"The most successful people have one teacher. I had 300 teachers. Whoever was passing by. . . . . The game got to be no fun at all. It was opposite from the game I had fallen in love with - playing the golf course, thinking of strategy. Instead, I would be thinking swing mechanics."

Billy Derickson, former pro at Inglewood Country Club in Kenmore, once called Sander "the most overtaught person in the world."

When Sander plays now, he said he relies on his natural swing and enjoys the outing. He said he hits the ball well but his scores don't reflect it "because my short game suffers from not practicing."

Sander said he plans to watch the Amateur on television this week.

"I have a lot of good memories of the tournament," he said. "I have a videotape (of ABC's telecast) of the tournament, and every once in a while I'll put it in. It was a great week for me."

The week at Bel-Air Country Club started as a fight to regain his health. He had flu symptoms when he arrived. He was unable to complete a practice round, walked off the course and went to bed. His mother, Marge, recalled, "One doctor told him to withdraw, but he refused."

Prescription drugs, orange juice and his mother's care got him through the early matches.

"As the week went on, I got stronger and stronger," Sander recalled. "Having been sick seemed to make the tournament more of a low-key thing for me. By the end of the week I was hitting it great and putting great."

The victory was headline news in Seattle and a great source of pride at his alma mater, Shorecrest High School, and Inglewood.

After being introduced to the game by his father, Hank, Sander started caddying at Inglewood. After a while, he became a junior member.

Inglewood had a stellar group of junior players in the early 1970s, and they pushed each other hard.

"Pars were not good enough," said Sander, a three-time winner of the Seattle Amateur. "It seemed like we'd all shoot between 65 and 70."

Sander has been a househusband and outdoorsman since leaving competitive golf. He jokes that he is "retired" even though he has dabbled at various jobs.

He said he doesn't have the itch to return to the regular tour but doesn't rule out joining the Senior Tour in 10 years. And even though he doesn't play much now, he is looking into becoming a golf instructor.

"I think I can teach and help people without getting them so caught up in mechanics," he said. "That's what the majority of people get hung up on."

No one knows that better than Sander, who followed his instincts that week in 1976 and earned a spot in golf history.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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