Down the Fairway: Russo seeks another amateur championship

Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows, five-time champion in this event, will lead the field in the Tri-County Match Play Championship Friday through Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club.
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Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows, five-time champion in this event, will lead the field in the Tri-County Match Play Championship Friday through Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club.

Although match play is a format that allows many competitors to be more aggressive on certain shots and puts the emphasis more on one’s opponent than on the course, Dan Russo doesn’t change his focus much at all.

Russo, the 63-year-old member of Schuyler Meadows, is the area’s all-time leader in major tournament victories among amateurs. Russo certainly knows how to win in golf, and he will play his normal game next weekend when the annual Tri-County Golf Association Match Play Championship is contested Friday through Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club.

The first major tournament of the season was canceled last season because of the pandemic. Depending on the size of the field, the Tri-County Match Play usually tees off with a one-day qualifier on Friday, with the top 16 in the open division advancing to match play over the next two days. The senior division normally sends eight players into match play if there are enough contestants. Two rounds of match play are then played both Saturday and Sunday to determine the champion.

“I play this tournament almost every year,” said Russo, who has won the event five times among his 18 “major” titles.

The former NYS Senior Men’s Amateur champion also owns eight Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championships, two Tri-County Golf Association Stroke Play titles, two Troy Invitational triumphs and one Times Union Amateur Championship, an event no longer played.

Russo, who also won his first Schenectady Classic last season when it was played over four rounds for the first time, has competed in 11 United States Golf Association Championships, including a pair of U.S. Senior Opens.

“Really I don’t change much in match play,” Russo said. “I always try to shoot the lowest scores I can, regardless of the format. I don’t particularly like match play a whole bunch. I prefer medal play, but it’s fair. I would say I’m probably a conservative player. Now, I can’t reach a lot of the par-5s I used to when I was younger.”

Russo said Colonie G&CC is an excellent test for this annual kickoff to the tournament schedule.

“I think it’s a good course,” he said. “What I like about it personally is that you’ve got to hit your driver on most holes, except for maybe the eighth hole and the 11th. There aren’t a lot of narrow holes. I always thought the greens were difficult, with a lot of crowns, but I don’t think there is much of an advantage for the big hitters and ball-strikers over the short-game specialists. The short-game guy has just as good a chance over there.”

A solid group of former champions are entered. Multiple winners beside Russo include former NYS Mid-Amateur titlist Jim Welch of Winding Brook, who also has multiple Troy Invitational and CRAGA Stroke Play victories to his credit; Dave Mooradian of the CC of Troy, former Troy Invitational winner Steve Quillinan Jr., Nick Braman of Shaker Ridge CC and former CRAGA Stroke Play winner Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie Golf Course.

U.S. OPEN DREAM BEGINS LOCALLY

Mohawk Golf Club is hosting the U.S. Open Local Qualifier May 10. It’s the first step for those hoping to compete in the 121st U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Among the talented field will be many of the same Tri-County Match Play participants, including Russo, as well as fellow Schuyler Meadows Club member David Hayes of Loudonville, Stoffer, Welch, two-time national USGA tournament participant Jim Gifford of the host club, Siena College grad and former Korn Ferry Tour member Bryan Bigley, Scotia native Ron Philo, the former National Professional Championship winner; and Quillinan, the former CC of Troy member now living in Everett, Massachusetts.

Other top amateurs in the field include Brian Mariano of Mechanicville, Steve Owens of Lansingburgh, Taylor Bellemare of Albany, Travis Koch and Alexander Bringsjord of Troy and both Nolan Crowley (Siena) and Anthony Cavotta of Saratoga Springs.

Pros with local ties besides Bigley and Philo include Normanside CC assistant pro Justin Hearley, who is coming off a career season on the Northeastern New York PGA tour, Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr, Eagle Crest Golf Club pro Scott Battiste, and Saratoga Spa GC assistant pro Scott Berliner, who has dominated the local pros’ tournament schedule for more than a decade. There will be four qualifiers in a field of 64.

CHIP SHOTS

Berliner, last season’s Northeastern New York PGA’s top player for the 10th straight campaign, started this season where he left off a year ago by winning the Pro Classic No. 1 Monday at Pinehaven Country Club in cool, demanding conditions. He eagled the 15th hole en route to a 1-over-par 71. John Neet, PGA Director of Instruction at Normanside CC, was second with a 74. Kirk Armstrong, former head pro at Whispering Pines and now retired, won the Legends Division with an 83. Next up on the schedule will be the Pro Classic No. 2 Monday at Saratoga Golf & Polo Club. The first NENY PGA major of the season will be the Stroke Play Championship May 18-19 at the Country Club of Troy.

Nicole Criscone bounced back from a fifth-place effort in the opening round to win her 14-18 age division in a Hurricane Junior Golf Tournament last weekend in Chicopee, Massachusetts.

The New York State Golf Association is now accepting scholarship applications for the 2021-22 academic year. Eligible students must be employed in their second season at an NYSGA member club, be in good academic standing, and require financial assistance. Application deadline is May 31. Call 518-471-6979, or visit nysga.org for more information.

The University at Albany women’s golf team finished seventh at the MAAC Championships last weekend, while both Siena College teams finished seventh at Disney’s Magnolia Golf Course in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Graduate student Megan Henry led the Great Danes by finishing tied for seventh place, while freshman Amber Thornton was ninth. For the Siena men’s team, Brody Yates tied for fifth, and senior Grace Cuttone finished in the top-10 for the women’s team.

New McGregor Links CC head pro Michael Decker has announced that the McGregor Links CC Invitational will take place June 11-12 and will consist of three scratch divisions. The format will be 36 holes of Fourball, with a championship division playing from the gold markers, a senior division (age 50 and older) playing from the white markers and a super senior division (age 65 and older) also playing from the white markers. Entry fee will be $300 per team. Contact McGregor Links CC (518-584-6664) for more information.

Eagle Crest Golf Club’s Two-Person Spring Scramble is set for May 16. Call the club at 518-877-7082 for more information.

The NYSGA’s Amateur Series begins May 10 at Irondequoit Golf Course in Rochester at 1 p.m. and continues at Turning Stone Resort’s Kaluhyat and Shenandoah courses May 13 and May 14. Greater Capital Region courses hosting Amateur Series events include Leatherstocking GC (May 25), Pinehaven CC (June 7), Albany CC (June 28), Shaker Ridge CC (July 19), Colonie G&CC (Aug. 16) and the Country Club of Troy (Sept. 7). The NYSGA Amateur Series, open to all NYSGA members, is a season-long series of individual handicapped stroke play tournaments (gross and net). Each tournament includes division for men, men’s senior (age 55 and up), men’s super senior (age 65 and up) and women (all ages). For more information, call 315-471-6979.

Speaking of NYSGA events, the first NYS Championship event of the season will be the NYS Fourball Championship May 23-24 at Leatherstocking Golf Club. The greater Capital Region is also hosting the NYS Men’s Amateur at Schuyler Meadows Club (Aug. 10-12), the NYS Women’s Senior Amateur at Pinehaven CC (Aug. 24-25) and the NYS Men’s Mid-Amateur at Shaker Ridge CC (Sept. 24-26).

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute senior Ryan Quinn picked up his third college victory and second in this event at the Liberty League Preview Tournament at Turning Stone Resort’s Shenandoah Course.

Briar Creek hosts the Michelob Light Tournament May 14. The four-person scramble will have a 9 a.m. shotgun start and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at the turn and a buffet dinner. Cost is $75 per person. Call 518-355-6145 to register.

The Northeastern Women’s Golf Association opens up its season with a four-player scramble event May 21 at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

Beginning May 21, Van Patten Golf Club will be starting two new leagues on Fridays, a Couples league at 5:30 p.m. and a Ladies league at 5 p.m. The cost for the Couples league will be $480 for the season and is pre-paid at the start. Space is limited to the first 12 couples signed up. Cost for the Ladies league will be $240 for the season and must also be pre-paid at the start of the season. Space is limited to the first 16 women to sign up. There will be special menu selections at the Vista Restaurant for both leagues. Call 518-877-5400 for more information.

Airway Meadows Golf Club hosts the 16th annual Wilton Rotary Golf Classic June 19 at 11 a.m. Entry fee is $100 and includes golf, light lunch and dinner. The format will be four-person scramble. There will be special challenges available, including a ball drop to support Alliance 180, a non-profit program that aims to prevent suicide among veterans and first responders, as well a chance to win a new vehicle during the hole-in-one contest. Contact Don Wildermuth (518-430-8670) for more information.

HOLES-IN-ONE

Trevor Porter posted a rare performance when he drove and aced the par-4 fourth hole at Fox Fun.

At Mechanicville Golf Club, Carlee Chapko collected a hole-in-one on the par-3 15th hole with a driver.

Dr. Tom Goodman used a 4-hybrid to ace the 154-yard 12th hole at Mohawk Golf Club.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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