Russo grabs final spot

Dan Russo complained that he hit only three good 5-iron shots all day. Luckily, one of those came on
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Dan Russo complained that he hit only three good 5-iron shots all day.

Luckily, one of those came on the second hole of a playoff for the

final berth in Monday’s U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Colonie Country Club.

Although medalist Brandon Baker of Cypress Point Country Club shot a one-under-par 71, four others tied for second with 74s. Since there were only four qualifying spots, there had to be a four-person playoff for the other three berths.

Canadian professionals Billy Houle and Chris Barber earned their spots with a birdie and par, respectively, on the first extra hole. Russo, a 50-year-old amateur out of Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club, and Ron Philo Jr., a Scotia native who spends his summers as the head pro at Sugarbush Country Club in Vermont, bogeyed the first playoff hole, and had to move on to a second extra hole to secure the last qualifying berth.

Russo’s 5-iron shot on the

199-yard par-3 landed 12 feet past the cup, while Philo, the son of former local club pro Ron Philo Sr. and the brother of LPGA standout Laura Diaz, overshot the green, winding up on the hazard line near some tall grass. He hacked out, but his ball rolled well past the hole. His par attempt from about 20 feet rolled about eight feet past the cup.

Meanwhile, Russo lagged his birdie putt to tap-in range, and

secured his first appearance in the U.S. Open sectionals, to be held June 2 at Canoe Brook Country Club. The top players from the sectional qualifier advance to the U.S. Open June 12-15 at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

Philo, a former winner of the National Club Pro Championship, when it was held at Turning Stone in 2006, settled for the first alternate spot, while host pro Frank Mellet shot a 75 and took the second alternate’s spot.

Russo was more than a little surprised that he was even in a playoff, let alone earn a qualifying berth.

“I didn’t play that well, at all,” he said. “On the first playoff hole, I hit my tee shot on the toe, and then I turned over my wedge. I’m not swinging the clubs very well, right now. I’ve got to practice just to get my game together for the next round. I’ve got nothing, right now. Instead of one or two swing thoughts, I’ve got something like 86. I don’t know what it is, but I haven’t played that well, so far.”

Still, Russo admitted it was a huge accomplishment to qualify, no matter how poorly he played.

“It will be a lot of fun to play and compete against those guys,” he said. “I won’t be intimidated, but I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous. I still realize that whatever I do there, it won’t be the end of the world.”

Russo rolled in three birdies to offset three bogeys, but he double-bogeyed the 16th hole, when his tee shot hit into some trees in the right rough.

Baker, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Virginia Wesleyan, only played the Colonie CC layout once before, during Sunday’s practice round.

“I liked the course,” he said. “It played pretty well, but it started getting a little windy for us on the 14th hole. The greens were rolling great.”

Baker, who lives in Clarkstown, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre, birdied the third, 10th, 15th, 16th and 18th holes. He had two bogeys and one double bogey.

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