Recent Torrey Pines graduate ‘pumped’ for return to California Amateur Championship

Torrey Pines' Caden Fioroni
Torrey Pines’ Caden Fioroni tees off on the 3rd hole during the final round of the CIF San Diego Section boys golf championship at Admiral Baker Golf Course in 2018.
(Chadd Cady )

Caden Fioroni was a 14-year-old Torrey Pines High School freshman, riding in a van for hours with teammates to tournaments. The older teenagers played video games or, earbuds dug deep, listened to music.

Not Fiorini.

“He’d be watching the ’86 Open or scrutinizing somebody’s swing,” recalls Falcons head coach Chris Drake. “He’s just hyper focused on golf, and that didn’t go away. He loves to play the game.”

Said Fioroni, “It’s always been like my safe haven. When I go there, I always feel calm. I just get this joy when I get to the golf course. I can’t explain it.”

Chasing his passion has worked out well for Fioroni, who graduated in June. He earned a scholarship to Pepperdine, the No. 1-ranked program in the nation. And beginning today, July 27, he’ll be one of the favorites to make a deep run in the California Amateur Championship, which will be played at Torrey Pines the next six days.

A year ago, Fioroni reached the semifinals of the tournament that starts with a 156-player field before losing to future Pepperdine teammate William Mouw.

As for his return, he said, “I’m very pumped.”

Like thousands of high school and college athletes, Fioroni’s spring sport season was halted in March by the coronavirus pandemic. For a golfer who finished second as a sophomore and junior in the boys state individual tournament, the cancellation was painful.

“It was awful,” said Fioroni, who led Torrey’s state championship team as a sophomore. “It was my last year to play (high school) golf with my friends.”

There was no chance to collect the state title after finishing second by one stroke the previous two years.

“I wanted to go back so bad,” he said.

Instead of walking across a stage at the Falcons’ Ed Burke Field to be handed his diploma, Fioroni sat in a car with his parents, easing up and down rows in the parking lot as teachers created a drive-by celebration.

While appreciating the effort the school made, Fioroni said, “It definitely was not the same. I still don’t feel like I accomplished my senior year.”

Missing prom wasn’t too painful.

“I’ve never really been that into dances,” he said.

What he has been into, since he was 4, is swinging a golf club. His mother, Heidi Hess, remembers when the family was remodeling a room and they let 4-year-old Caden smash Titleists into the drywall that was going to be replaced.

“He got a laugh out of that,” said Hess.

By 6, Fioroni was teeing it up on courses.

“That’s when I started to take it seriously,” he said.

At 5-feet-11, 175 pounds, Fioroni is known for his distance off the tee. His drives routinely carry about 320 yards.

“He just crushes the ball and doesn’t miss a whole lot,” said Drake. “He’s pretty good at hitting his targets, then when he gets around the green, he takes his time and has patience.”

Torrey Pines has won 22 section golf titles, nearly three times more than any other program.

“I’ve been really, really fortunate to have a lot of talented players come through Torrey Pines,” said Drake, who has coached at the school for 14 years. “He’s on our Mount Rushmore of great players, not only as a golfer but as a young man.

“He stepped up as a leader this year. He really wanted to take the team on his back. It’s hard for us to get leadership in golf. It’s not a team sport. Golf’s a lot of elite personalities.”

Fioroni played in the Corey Pavin Invitational earlier this month at Bear Creek in Murrieta. He finished tied for eighth. He struck the ball well, but his putting let him down.

“The blade was struggling,” said Fioroni, who required a whopping 73 putts in the two rounds. He’ll be carrying a new putter in his bag this week at Torrey Pines.

“The course fits me really well,” he said. “If the putter’s going, it should be fun.”

109th California Amateur Championship

What: One of the nation’s oldest amateur golf championships.

Where: Torrey Pines Golf Course

When: Today through Saturday

Format: Field of 156 golfers will play two rounds of stroke play today and Tuesday, split between North and South courses. Top 32 golfers advance to match play, held on South Course. Final round is 36 holes on Saturday.

Notes: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, spectators will not be allowed. ... Pepperdine sophomore William Mouw is playing in the Western Amateur and not defending his title. ... Former champions include Ken Venturi (1951, ’56), Johnny Miller (1968) and Mark O’Meara (1979). Players who competed but did not win include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

Norcross is a freelance writer.