Every time Dan Russo tees it up in a tournament at this stage of his phenomenal career, he’s never sure if he ever will raise another championship trophy.
At age 62, the Hagaman native refuses to accept the inevitable. The all-time leader in major tournament victories for local amateur men with 19 still plays open events exclusively. No senior divisions for him, and you can be sure he still plays from the tips with the long-hitting youngsters.
That’s why it was really no big surprise that Russo won his all-time record ninth Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championship last weekend at Schuyler Meadows Club. Russo, playing at his home course, was sensational during the opening round of the two-day event with a 5-under-par 67 that included six birdies and a bogey.
In golf at every level, it’s always unrealistic to expect back-to-back brilliant performances, and sure enough, in very breezy conditions, Russo struggled on the front nine during the final round on Sunday. He made the turn at 2-over-par, and he saw his two-shot lead over RPI golf coach Jamie Jackson evaporate completely.
Jackson, who plays out of Shaker Ridge Country Club, took the lead with a birdie on the drivable, 303-yard par-4 10th hole with a birdie. Russo’s tee shot ran through the green into the back fringe, and he failed to get up-and-down for his own birdie.
Russo blasted a huge tee shot on the next hole, but his approach shot landed well short of the flag, and he needed a solid two-putt to walk away with a par.
It was then that Russo began to assert himself with three straight birdies to recapture the lead. He followed that up with three routine pars and a chip-in for birdie on the final hole. Meanwhile, Jackson bogeyed the 14th hole and the 16th hole before chipping troubles resulted in a triple-bogey 7 on the challenging 17th hole.
Russo (67-70-137) ended up winning by a comfortable seven shots over Jackson (69-75-144). Ben Bates, last year’s runner-up from Mohawk Golf Club, was third (71-74-145).
“I was holding on for dear life out there on the front nine. I made a couple of stupid shots, and I was just trying to hit the ball on the face of the club,” Russo said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to the others, because I was focused so much on my own game. I didn’t hear what anyone was doing in front of us, and I figured if someone was making a move we would have heard about it.”
After his three straight birdies in the middle of his back nine, Russo said he felt comfortable about winning once he hit a safe drive and reached the green in regulation on the 16th hole.
“I felt I could get home from there,” he said.
Russo said he never takes any victory for granted, especially at this advanced stage of his long playing career.
“This feels great,” he said. “It’s fun to win on your home course, obviously. I’ve said this before — when you first start out, you want to prove yourself. In my middle years, I knew I was good enough. Now, I don’t know if I’m good enough or if I can hold on.
“It feels good to win. I was playing pretty good coming into this tournament. I was hitting it good, and I was confident. There’s no question that there’s nobody more thrilled than I am to win this. I don’t take it for granted.”
Russo has won just about every major tournament the Capital Region has to offer, including two Tri-County Golf Association Stroke Play titles in an event that was the precursor to the CRAGA Stroke Play, five Tri-County Golf Association Match Play crowns, two Troy Invitational victories and one Times Union Amateur Championship win.
He’s also captured three Edison Invitationals and six Amsterdam City titles, as well as numerous club titles at his old home course, Rolling Hills at Antlers, and Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course. Russo and numerous different partners dominated most tandem events over the last three or four decades.
Russo also has competed in an impressive 11 United States Golf Association Championships, and last year, he won his first New York State Golf Association crown by securing the NYS Senior Amateur trophy at Calvary Golf Club in Syracuse.
There’s not much left for Russo to conquer, but he doesn’t like to think about his legacy yet.
“Nope, not right now,” he said. “When it’s over, I’ll worry about it then. I’m honored and thrilled to have done what I’ve done so far.”
Bates, a two-time Schenectady Classic winner, as well as a former Skidmore College standout and the 1997 NYS Boys’ Junior Amateur champion, appreciates Russo’s game and demeanor.
“I grew up at Mohawk Golf Club, and I remember watching Danny coming over for our Member-Guest to play with Keith Gillespie. I’ve always liked the way he carries himself,” Bates said. “The golf speaks for itself. It’s always fun to play with Danny. He’s humble, polite and courteous. He’s just a joy to be around. Numbers don’t lie.
It wasn’t going to matter how well I played today. He shot a 31 on the back nine in this wind. Nobody was going to beat him today.”
Schenectady Municipal Golf Course head pro Matt Daley has announced some exciting changes to the revised Schenectady Classic, which was postponed in June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new Schenectady Classic will now include amateur men, senior men and women in three different divisions. The men will play four rounds on Sept. 10-13, with a cut after the first two rounds on Friday and another for the final round on Sunday. The women will play on that Friday and Saturday, Sept. 11-12, with both gross and net competition, while the senior men will compete on the first two days, Sept. 10-11. All divisions are open to non-residents.
Daley will announce details on the entry fees soon, so stay tuned.
Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr won the Northeastern New York PGA’s Professional Classic Series No. 5 with a 2-under-par 68 this past week at Normanside Country Club. Host club assistant pro Justin Hearley was four shots back with a 72. John Durcan, a PGA Life Member, won the Legends division with a 73. The next open event for the local pros will be the NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship Aug. 17-18 at Mohawk Golf Club. The local assistants will compete in the Assistants Match Play, while the senior pros will compete in the Seniors Match Play, both on Tuesday and Wednesday at Orchard Creek.
Former University at Albany golfer Annie Songeun Lee (2015-18) was named to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference 40th anniversary golf team. She is a former MAAC Rookie of the Year and was a two-time MAAC individual champion.
The second annual Albany Twilight League Alumni Golf Classic will be held Sept. 25 at Town of Colonie Golf Course. The four-man scramble has an entry fee of $100 per golfer, including carts and lunch. There will be a 9 a.m. shotgun start. Make out checks to the Albany Twilight League Alumni and send the names of your foursome and a check to Bill Levy, 21 Tattersall Lane, Albany, N.Y., 12205.
Cooper Diaz, the 14-year-old son of Scotia native and two-time LPGA Tour winner Laura Diaz, is the caddie for Brittany Lang at the Marathon LPGA Classic. Cooper has already caddied for his mother in several LPGA events, so he’s got plenty of experience at a very young age.
Canajoharie Golf & Country Club hosts the Northeastern Women’s Golf Association Two-Player Scramble on Tuesday. The NEWGA Championship is set for Aug. 19-20 at Pinehaven Country Club.
Stadium Golf Club has reported a handful of recent holes-in-one.
Dave Niles used a 7-iron to hole out on the eighth hole. John Stewart hit a 7-iron on the 180-yard 12th hole, and Jack Madigan hit a 5-wood on that same hole for his ace.
Two Stadium golfers recorded holes-in-one while the pool noodle bumpers were still being used on the course. David Lamana hit a 3-wood on the 170-yard 15th hole, and Lynne Greenway hit a 5-hybrid on the fifth hole.
At Mechanicville Golf Club, Mike Serone used a wedge for his second career hole-in-one on the 135-yard second hole.
Alvin Gamble of Colonie holed out with an 8-iron for an eagle on the third hole of the blue course at Town of Colonie Golf Course.