Dan Russo is a milestone machine. He collects memorable achievements on the links like many of us store away baseball cards, coins or stamps. The only difference is that at the age of 59, the Hagaman native still has the talent and drive of a player half his age.
Russo, arguably the greatest amateur golfer in the Capital Region in terms of “major” championships, will add another notable career accomplishment this week when he competes in the 38th Annual U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass., Thursday through Sunday.
He has always maintained that among all of his golfing accolades, he is most proud of the now 10 USGA events he’s qualified for.
This will be his second appearance in the U.S. Senior Open. He’s also appeared in the U.S.Mid-Amateur Championship, for players age 25 and older, twice.
“This one here was unexpected,” he said.
The member of Schuyler Meadows Club shot a two-under-par 69 at Bonnie Briar Country Club in Larchmont, Mass., to finish two shots behind qualifying medalist Mark McCormick and grab one of four berths in that qualifier. He had to birdie two of his final three holes, notching seven birdies overall, to earn his berth.
“The thing I like about these USGA championships is that nothing is handed to you. You have to earn everything,” Russo said. “You are always on the road, and most of the time, you must go down to the site a week or two before to take notes or get a practice round in. There is a lot of preparation involved.”
Russo, who was a member of Rolling Hills at Antlers for several decades before moving over to Schuyler Meadows, has always been known for his precise ball-striking and length off the tee. These days, he tries to spend a little more time on the short game.
“If I had the time, I would be spending a lot more time on the short-game stuff in preparation for this,” he said with a chuckle. “Now, I seem to be struggling with everything in my game, so I’m working on everything.
Chipping, pitching and putting is where you can score, so that’s what I really need to be working on.
That’s the difference maker, especially at this level. You’re not going to hit the ball well all the time. If your round is going down, you better be making some up-and-down pars.”
Although Russo is confident in his own abilities, which have helped him accumulate four consecutive Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play titles, eight overall, and a pair of Troy Invitational crowns, he’s amazed by the talent he sees at the pro level.
“It’s fun to watch them. They are so much better than people realize,” he said. “I don’t care what tour it is, whether it’s the PGA, Champions Tour or Web.com Tour, they are so much better than even the very best guys locally.
Most of them can still play against anybody when the tees are set at 6,800 or 6,900 yards.”
As usual with a USGA event, Russo knows he must keep the ball in the fairway to succeed.
“Most of the time, the rough will be a lot higher, and it puts a real premium on driving the ball straight. Plus, this course is a Donald Ross layout, and that means the greens will be perched with a run-off if your shots aren’t placed in the right position,” he said.
He must walk every round — no easy task in the heat and humidity — but he said he doesn’t believe that will be a problem. His son will be on the bag, and he expects numerous friends and family members to show up for support.
“It will be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. If I shoot 80 and play well, that’s OK with me. I’m not a dream chaser; I’m a realist,” he said.
“I know where my game stacks up against these guys. I’m not all of a sudden going to be competing and hitting the ball like Fred Couples, but if I play my game and play well, I’ll be satisfied.”
PHILO ALSO COMPETING
Ron Philo Jr., the Scotia native and head pro at Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, also earned a berth for this week’s major championship by shooting a one-under-par 69 and then winning a playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole at a qualifier at Kernwood CC in Salem, Mass.
Philo, the son of former local club pro Ron Philo Sr. and the brother of former LPGA Tour standout Laura Diaz, won the PGA Professional Championship at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in 2006. He is a five-time PGA Section Player of the Year and has competed in eight PGA Tour majors, including a U.S. Open. He has competed in more than a dozen PGA Tour events.
The Mark Printsky Memorial Golf Tournament will be played July 15 at McGregor Links Country Club. There will be a 1 p.m. shotgun start for the four-person scramble. The tournament will help establish a scholarship in Printsky’s name at SUNY-Cobleskill. Printsky was the longtime course superintendent at McGregor Links CC. Entry fee is $110 per person and includes golf, lunch and the reception. Call McGregor Links CC at 585-6664 for more information.
The Empire Golf Club travels to Pinehaven Country Club Wednesday with a 9 a.m. shotgun start. Visit www.empiregolfclub.com for more information.
Hiland Golf Club in Queensbury hosts the next Eastern New York Golf Association event on Wednesday.
Northeastern Women’s Golf Association members compete in their Two-Player Scramble at Canajoharie Country Club on Friday.
Albany Country Club hosts a New York State Golf Association Amateur Series tournament Monday.
It will be a busy week for local club pros, who compete in the Pro Classic No. 3 Monday at McGregor Links CC and then play in the Pro-Junior Championship Friday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Kate Lee had a hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 80-yard 17th hole at Hiawatha Golf Course.
At Normanside Country Club, Ellen McCaughin used a 9-iron to ace the 100-yard sixth hole.
Bill Wasserbach Sr. got his first-ever hole in one on the 111-yard fourth hole at Shaker Ridge Country Club. Wasserbach used an 8-iron.
Brandon Alois eagled the par-5 ninth hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course in the Sandbaggers league.
Han Banta eagled the 10th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
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