Down The Fairway: Locals looking to end drought

p>Forty-seven Capital Region players will try to snap a shutout string that has lasted more than two
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Forty-seven Capital Region players will try to snap a shutout string that has lasted more than two decades when the 86th annual New York State Golf Association Men’s Amateur Championship is contested Tuesday through Saturday at Pinehaven Country Club.

The last local player to win the Ganson Depew Cup was Jay Gunning of Town of Colonie Golf Course in 1986. Gunning, who later competed on the pro mini tours, was also one of the few local players to play in a U.S. Open.

Other local players who won the State Am crown include Albany’s Joe Ruszas (1944), Albany’s Billy Shields (1951, ’52 and ’55), Troy’s Rich Serian (1977) and Troy’s Bill Boland (1983).

The Country Club of Troy hosted the New York State Amateur in 2006, when Andrew DiBitetto of Rochester triumphed. Kingston’s Bryan Smith won the state crown the last time Pinehaven CC hosted the event in 1998.

More than 150 players will compete for 32 match-play spots during medal-play rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two rounds of match play will be contested both Thursday and Friday, with the 36-hole championship finals set for Saturday.

John Dutchie of Lansing is the defending champion.

The State Am began as a 64-player match-play tournament, and remained that way from 1923 until 1970, when Don Allen of Rochester won the first 72-hole medal-play event. Allen by the way, won six state crowns.

The format switched back to match play in 1992.

Who are the leading local candidates to win the state’s biggest amateur event?

The track record in recent years calls for youth, particularly college-aged standouts. That means golf fans should keep a close eye on Country Club of Troy’s Nick Feinberg, who recently graduated from St. Andrews University and won last month’s Troy Invitational.

Siena College has plenty of young lions in the field, including The Edison Club’s Jim Gifford, who won the Tri-County Golf Association Match Play Championship and teamed with fellow Saint Don DeNyse III to capture the Haggerty Two-Man title at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course last month.

Gifford also won last year’s Saratoga County Amateur championship.

DeNyse, by the way, has an Albany County Amateur and New York State Junior Amateur title under his belt.

Don’t count out Duanesburg teacher Robby Bigley Jr., another Siena grad who calls Pinehaven CC his home course. Bigley has won a pair of Gazette County Amateur crowns and is one of the longer hitters in the field.

Chris Haggerty of Glens Falls Country Club, the son of Glens Falls CC head pro Tom Haggerty, and Justin Deitz of The Edison Club, are other Siena standouts in the field.

Joe Lanci of Saratoga Springs, the Mohawk Golf Club duo of Chris and Bryan Barach, Shenendehowa’s Joe Macaluso and Ryan Simpson, and recent Tampa University left-hander Jon-Michael Socaris round out a strong group of youngsters with title aspirations,

But sometimes, experience trumps youth. There are more than a few veteran players from this area who could get the job done with a little luck.

If home-course knowledge is the difference, how about former Pinehaven CC head pro Randy Duncan, who now plays out of Wolferts Roost Country Club?

Nobody knows the Pinehaven CC layout better than Rob Bigley Sr., Robby’s father, who is not only the course superintendent at the host course but also owns five Gazette County Amateuer crowns.

Jim Mueller, who now plays out of Orchard Creek, is a former Pinehaven CC member who also possesses five Gazette County Am trophies on his mantle. Mueller recently finished third in the Eagle Crest Shootout.

Defending New York State Mid-Am titlist John Vaccaro of Wolferts Roost CC, who is a former Tri-County Match Play champ, is another threat, along with two-time Troy Invy winner Jim Welch of Winding Brook CC, former Saratoga County Amateur winner Aaron AuBuchon of Saratoga Golf & Polo Club and CC of Troy’s Matt Clarke, Joe Quillinan and Dave Mooradian. Clarke is a former State Mid-Am champ. AuBuchon is a former pro.

STATE OPEN SET

Running almost simultaneously with the State Am will be the New York State Open, Tuesday through Thursday at Bethpage Park’s Black Course on Long Island.

Siena graduate and former Pinehaven CC standout Bryan Bigley, a two-time Gazette County Amateur winner who recently turned professional, club pro Dave Strawn of Cranwell Resort, Capital Hills at Albany head pro Steve Vatter, Wolferts Roost Country Club assistant pro Tye Grissom and lefty Jim Cocca of Shaker Ridge Country Club (first alternate) are in the field.

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