Stroke Play champ Hillman takes right approach

Josh Hillman prefers to play aggressively, but he can play carefully when he has to.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Josh Hillman prefers to play aggressively, but he can play carefully when he has to.

The 31-year-old Berkshire Hills Country Club head pro captured his second consecutive Northeastern New York PGA Stroke Play Championship with an even-par 72 in the final round for a two-day total of four-under-par 140 Tuesday at The Edison Club.

Hillman, who started the day with a two-shot lead, defeated

Wyantenuck Country Club head pro Tom Sullivan by three shots. The 59-year-old Sullivan carded a 73 in the final round.

Hillman earned $2,200 and a crystal trophy, while Sullivan took home $1,800. Frank Mellet of Col­onie Golf & Country Club was third with a 73-144, good for $1,500, while Canajoharie Country Club head pro Ian Breen was fourth (75-145).

Although the course gave up six under-par scores in the opening round, only one player, Albany Country Club assistant Matt Felber, shot under par on Tuesday with a 69.

The pins were tougher, and the greens were even quicker than they were in the opening round. Hillman took that into consideration, and was content to wait for his birdie opportunities to come to him rather than force the action.

“I tried to play my same game. I built up a cushion, and I hit some irons off the tee on holes that I usually don’t,” said Hillman. “I hit an iron off the tee on the 10th hole [actually the 19th]. for example, and that’s a hole where you can use a driver if you want to. The greens here have such subtle breaks, and the pins are so difficult. It’s a good test of golf. I had to pick and choose my moments to be aggressive.”

Hillman, who made five birdies and finished with a 68 in the opening round, posted eight straight pars on the front side before rolling in his first birdie of the day on the ninth hole on Tuesday. He made the turn onto the third nine with a three-shot lead.

After a key up-and-down par on his 10th hole, he got into trouble on No. 20, a 398-yard par-4, when he hooked his tee shot into the tall grass and bushes in the left rough. It took a while before a playing partner discovered Hillman’s ball in some deep bushes. Hillman punched out to the fairway and hit his third shot on the green, but he failed to save his par.

Hillman also got up-and-down for par on the 22nd hole, and rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the

161-yard par-3 23rd hole to move back to five-under-par. He missed the green on the par-3 25th hole and finished with his second

bogey of the day, but he got that shot right back on the 499-yard,

par-5 26th hole. Although his tee shot landed in the right rough, he used a

hybrid club and attempted to reach the green in two. Hillman’s ball landed in the left green-side bunker. His bunker shot settled about 12 feet from the cup, and he rolled in a birdie to just about clinch the victory.

He failed to get up-and-down for par on the final hole, but he already caught a glimpse of the scoreboard, and knew he had at least a four-shot cushion to work with.

“This is a good old golf course. It was built in 1904,” said Hillman. “I play better on older courses.”

Hillman was asked how it felt to win back-to-back NENYPGA Stroke Play titles.

“It’s one of our majors, and I like to play well in the majors,” he said. “I’m playing better lately because I’m finally feeling comfortable with my job. I just became the head pro at Berkshire Hills this year, and although there are a lot of 12-hour days, I try to play every day, whether it’s at 6 a.m. or 7 p.m.”

On Monday, Hillman will try to qualify for next month’s PGA event at the Turning Stone Resort. He is also considering making his fourth attempt at PGA Qualifying School. He advanced to the second stage of qualifying once in his previous three attempts.

Sullivan remained in contention Tuesday, despite giving up 28 years to Hillman.

“I was giving up 28 years and about 28 yards on my tee shots,” said Sullivan said with a laugh. “I didn’t make any three-putts in the two days of the tournament. I was a little shaky with my driver, but my game is solid, right now.”

Sullivan started slowly with

bogeys on the first and third holes, but he came back with back-to-back birdies on the fourth and fifth holes.

“I’m trying to stay in contention with the young guys,” he said. “If you quit, it’s no fun. Josh is a good friend of mine. He’s got a lot of game. He’s good for the section, and he’s good for the game.”

RESULTS

(Par-72-144)

Josh Hillman (Berkshire Hills CC) 72-140, $2,200; Tom Sullivan (Wyantenuck CC) 73-143,

$1,800; Frank Mellet (Colonie G&CC) 73-144, $1,500; Ian Breen (Canajoharie CC) 75-145, $1,250; Matt Felber (Albany CC) 69-146, $850; James Marston (Strockbridge) 75-146, $850; Steve Vatter (Capital Hills) 77-147, $550; Rocky Catalano (Ausable Club) 72-147,

$550; Bob Meheran (Cobleskill G&CC) 74-148,

$350; Brian Lowe (Windham CC) 74-148, $350; Tom Oppedisano (Orchard Creek) 71-150,

$100; Tom Siddon (Massena CC) 73-150, $100; Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 75-151; Todd Manderson (Ballston Spa CC) 77-151; Jeremy Kerr (Oneonta CC) 77-151; Kevin Cain (Hiland GC) 75-152; David Strawn (Cranwell Resort) 75-153; John Neet (The Edison Club) 76-153; David Lis (Wolferts Roost CC) 79-153; Darryl Jack (Woodstock GC) 76-154; Bob Mucha (Greenock CC) 78-154; Paul Jaycox (Onteora) 79-154; Mike Durant (Schen­ectady Municipal GC) 78-155; Peter Gerard (Mill Road Acres) 78-155; Brian Damon

(Schenectady Municipal GC) 77-156; Brian Hampson (Burden Lake CC) 80-159; George Mackey (Ticonderoga CC) 81-163; Tom

Falotico (Dick’s Sporting Goods) 81-163; Scott Warren (Pinehaven CC) 83-166; Harvey Bostic (Lifetime Member) NC; Tom Haggerty (Glens Falls CC) NC; Sean Madden (Mohawk GC) NC.

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