Constantly in motion and bursting with nervous energy from tee to green, Jim Mueller is still excited about his golf game, even as he moves ever closer to the senior division.
The 49-year-old Altamont resident is one of only two five-time Gazette Schenectady County Amateur champions, and he remains a title contender every time he tees it up in both local and regional tournaments.
“I’m still competitive. That will never end,” said the self-taught Mueller, whose unusual schedule sometimes makes it harder to focus on the fairways.
“I work at the post office, and my usual shift is late at night, from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.,” he said. “Sometimes, that schedule is helpful, because I’m wide awake and ready to play. Other times, it’s not so helpful. There are times when concentration is a problem if I’ve had a long night at work. Sometimes, I’m very tired when I play. But that’s the way it’s been all the time with me. I’m a very streaky player. I can still compete with most people out there. Sometimes, I’m nothing special, but I’m usually in the top five in most events if my game is in good shape.”
Mueller’s strength is an outstanding wedge game that enables him to extricate himself from trouble. For most of his career, he’s been sneaky long with his driver, but not always very accurate. His ability to stick his wedge shots close to the pin often saves him from big numbers.
“It’s funny, because lately, my wedge game hasn’t been what it was,” he admitted. “I still think my short game is one of my strengths, although my putting comes and goes.”
Just like the other parts of his game, Mueller’s putting has always been streaky. When he’s hot, he can make a flurry of birdies.
“I’ve been using my own version of the claw grip for several years now,” he said. “For awhile, I was fooling around with a left-hand low grip. I can still make my share of birdies when I’m on.”
Mueller’s natural approach to the game came early on, when he picked up the fundamentals from watching his mother.
“I started playing when I was 8 or 9 years old,” he said. “I played golf with my mother. She was a school teacher, and she had the summers off. I would watch her play and pretty much learn that way. I never really took a golf lesson until four or five years ago.”
A natural athlete, Mueller excelled at golf, basketball and baseball at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School. He was a guard on the basketball team and a second baseman on the baseball team. He came back to ND-BG as a coach of both the golf team and the JV and freshmen basketball teams.
Until he was 25, Mueller was a member of Ballston Spa Country Club, where he won the club championship twice. He switched to Pinehaven Country Club, where he was a member for about 10 years until recently becoming unattached. Mueller seldom played in the club championship at Pinehaven CC, but he did win that event once. He plays out of Orchard Creek now.
These days, Mueller is well known for his solid credentials in County Amateur competition, where he is not only tied with Rob Bigley for the most career titles but also has five runner-up finishes. Mueller also competes in numerous best-ball tournaments and has won dozens of times with various partners, including longtime buddy Mark Chylinski, Bill Frutchy and Aaron AuBuchon. Mueller and AuBuchon have won several Stadium Classic titles, while he has combined with Frutchy to take the Normanside Invitational. Chylinski and Mueller combined to dominate best-ball competition in the late 1980s and early 1990s before Chylinski moved away from the Capital Region.
Mueller also enjoys participating in regional and national events. The highlight of his career was earning a berth in the 1994 U.S. Amateur at the famed TPC Sawgrass layout.
“That was awesome,” he said. “It was the best golf experience I ever had.”
Mueller not only enjoyed playing with the best amateurs in the country, but he also got a kick out of the tricky 17th hole, a par-3 surrounded by water.
“I made a par on that hole. I wasn’t in contention, so there wasn’t much pressure on me. The wind was picking up a little, but I got on the green, got my par, and got out of there. It’s a great hole.”
Mueller also competes in the New York State Amateur, as long as it’s close to home.
“The last few years, I made it a point to watch my son play and keep track of his event. Now, he’s at SUNY-Plattsburgh,” Mueller said. “I’ll get back to playing some regional events now, as long as they aren’t too far away. It’s always been family first for me. I’ve got a lot of other things to do besides golf, but I still love it.”
Mueller hopes to remain among the area’s golf elite for as long as possible.
“The equipment helps,” he said. “Length off the tee is not a problem in local events, because our courses aren’t that long. But I’m not as long off the tee as I used to be. I’m a lot straighter now.”
Look for Mueller’s name in the Gazette County Amateur pairings. He’s usually among the early starters.
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