Down the Fairway: Bigley returning home to play in U.S. Open qualifier

Bryan Bigley, now living near San Francisco, returns home to compete in U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club Monday. He’s been on pro tours for more than 12 years.
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Bryan Bigley, now living near San Francisco, returns home to compete in U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club Monday. He’s been on pro tours for more than 12 years.

Golf is no longer the No. 1 priority in Bryan Bigley’s life. After more than a dozen years of chasing his dream of making it on the PGA Tour, the Schalmont High School and Siena College graduate doesn’t have to worry about making the cut in order to earn enough money to keep his career afloat.

Now living just outside of San Francisco, Bigley is married, enjoys his role as a stay-at-home dad for his two stepsons, and hits the little white ball around just for fun these days.

But the 36-year-old former member of the Korn Ferry Tour — the feeder system for the PGA Tour — still likes to test his game against the best players in the world. He’ll get another opportunity to challenge himself when he returns home to compete in Monday’s U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club. The 121st U.S. Open will be held June 17-20 at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

During the last decade or so, Bigley was always a huge favorite to advance from the local qualifier to sectional play, and he did so quite often. But he was never able to move on to the U.S. Open itself, as the field at the sectionals — loaded with PGA Tour veterans — was simply a bit too tough.

In years past, Bigley’s game was always in top form at this time of the year, because he was already playing on numerous pro tours. This season is quite different.

“I still have pro status, but all I’m doing these days is playing at a short little club in my neighborhood. I’m playing in a member-guest this [past] weekend,” he said in a recent telephone interview.

“I just play a couple of days a week now. It’s a nice, refreshing break. Last year, with COVID-19 and everything it affected, I wasn’t traveling at all or playing. With my wife busy at work, I’m a stay-at-home dad now, and I enjoy it.”

The son of longtime Pinehaven Country Club course superintendent Rob Bigley and the brother of fellow Siena College grad Robby Bigley, Bryan Bigley is one of the most decorated players in Capital Region history. He won two Schenectady County Amateur championships and a Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play crown with a course-record performance at Wolferts Roost Country Club. He excelled on the Siena College golf team, earning MAAC Player of the Year, and then embarked on a long pro career.

He began by competing on the eGolf Tour and the Carolinas Pro Golf Tour, picking up a couple of victories. In 2011, Bigley made his first PGA Tour start by Monday qualifying for the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. He missed the cut. The following season, he once again made the Wells Fargo Championship field, but again missed the cut. He considers the two cups of coffee on the PGA Tour as his the highlights of his pro career.

Bigley had seven top-25s and made 11 cuts in 13 starts to finish the Latin American PGA season ranked 24th on the Order of Merit. His best finish was a six-way tie for second at the Mundo Maya Open. The following year, he was 27th on the Latin America PGA Tour’s Order of Merit with four top-10 finishes, and he made 11 cuts.

The 2016 campaign was a breakout season for Bigley, as he moved up to play in the extremely competitive Korn Ferry Tour. He made 10 cuts, had two top-10 finishes and was ranked 77th on the money list. Two years later, he tied for sixth at the BMW Charity Pro-Am after shooting rounds of 66, 66, 64 and 68.

His last season on the Korn Ferry Tour was 2019, when he finished 107th on the points list, but recorded two top-25s, including a tie for second I the Wichita Open. Involved in a five-man playoff, he eventually lost to Henrikk Norlander on the third playoff hole.

All told, Bigley earned $252,686 as a pro since 2008.

“Who knows what would have happened to my career if I had won that tournament,” Bigley said. “I don’t really have any regrets about my career, but it could have gone a lot of different ways over the years. That last year sucked. I was so close. But with everything going on, I took a year off.”

During his “off” time from the game, he got married and moved from his home in Charlotte.

Now, for the first time in a long while, he will see his family and his old stomping grounds.

“It will be good to see everyone. I haven’t seen my family in a long while,” Bigley said. “It’s always nice to get my dad on my bag again. It will also be nice to see my sister and her kids. They are getting really big. I don’t think I’ve been back home in at least a year.”

Unlike past seasons, Bigley doesn’t have high expectations. He’s advanced to the sectionals eight times previously, but he’s certainly rusty.

“I’m not expecting much,” he said. “I will try my best, and we’ll see what happens. The nerves will be there. I haven’t had those reps. When you are playing 20 tournaments a year and four days a week, everything becomes automatic. At least the member-guest I was playing got my competitive juices going again. We’ll see what happens.”

He’s not closing the door on his pro career completely, but he enjoys his life right now.

“The Q [qualifying] School is coming up in the fall. I might try, or I might not,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. I would really have to step up my game and gear up again. I would have to put in the daily work and get back on the road again.

Meanwhile, four spots will be up for grabs at Monday’s U.S. Open local qualifier, which has a loaded field of 64. Tee times run from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.

Along with Bigley, some of the top pros competing include 55-year-old Scotia native Ron Philo, the former Professional Championship winner when it was held at the Turning Stone Resort. Philo, who actually played in the U.S. Open back in 1999, is the general manager of the Victoria National Golf Club in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s the son of former local club pro Ron Philo Sr. and the brother of two-time LPGA Tour winner Laura Diaz.

Other players to watch are perennial NENY PGA Player of the Year Scott Berliner of Saratoga Spa Golf Course, Normanside CC assistant pro Justin Hearley, Eagle Crest GC head pro Scott Battiste, Eric Mabee from the Country Club of Pittsfield and host head pro Jeremy Kerr.

A strong amateur field is also entered, including former CRAGA Stroke Play and multiple Tri-County Match Play winner Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie GC; multiple Saratoga County Amateur and two-time national USGA Championship competitor Jim Gifford, former NYS Mid-Amateur titlist Jim Welch of Winding Brook CC, former Troy Invitational champ Stephen Quillinan Jr. and Saratoga Springs graduates Anthony Cavotta and Nolan Crowley.

Hagaman’s Dan Russo, the 18-time local major tournament winner from Schuyler Meadows Club, was entered, but is unlikely to tee it up after a back injury earlier in the week.

CHIP SHOTS

Berliner won his second consecutive NENY PGA event this week when he posted a 2-under-par 68 at Saratoga Golf & Polo Club to edge Kerr (70), John Neet of Normanside CC (71) and Chris Sanger of Woodstock GC (71). Retired PGA Lifetime member John Durcan won the Legends Division with a 73. After Monday’s U.S. Open local qualifier, the next event on the NENY PGA schedule is its first major, the NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship May 18-19 at the Country Club of Troy.

RPI won its first-ever Liberty League golf championship with a two-day total of 577 to win by 14 strokes at Turning Stone Resort’s Shenandoah Golf Course.

The New York State Golf Association has made a couple of changes to its format for both the NYS Women’s Amateur and the NYS Women’s Mid-Amateur. Both events will be shortened from three days to two days. The NYS Women’s Amateur will still play 54 holes, but 18 holes will be played the first day and then the low 40 and ties will play 36 holes the second day. The NYS Women’s Mid-Amateur, for women age 25 and older, will play 18 holes each day without a cut.

Stadium Golf Club is offering free golf for mothers on Mother’s Day. Contact the pro shop at 518-374-9104, ext. 1 for details.

In a correction to last week’s column, the University at Albany women’s golf team finished second — not seventh — in the MAAC Championship.

Veteran lefty Woody Winslow, 75, eagled the par-5 second hole, and then proceeded to birdie the rest of the par-5s (Nos. 9, 12, 14 and 16) at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course recently.

Town of Colonie Golf Course and the LPGA Amateurs/Capital Region NY Chapter, are hosting the Operation 36 program for beginning women golfers. The Friday evening sessions will teach you the basics of golf. The fee is $50 for the coaching by Christian Torres and Zach Follos and a smartphone app. Contact Robin Raco via direct message or contact [email protected] 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 Monday 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.

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).

Briar Creek hosts the Michelob Light Tournament Friday. 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.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

Categories: Sports

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