Down the Fairway: Quillinan outduels McGinn to win third Tri-County Match Play crown

Steve Quillinan lines up a putt during the finals of the Tri-County Match Play Championship last Sunday. He won his third title. (Bob Weiner)

Steve Quillinan lines up a putt during the finals of the Tri-County Match Play Championship last Sunday. He won his third title. (Bob Weiner)

The first major championship on the local men’s amateur golf schedule is in the record book, and a few interesting and unexpected story lines developed.

Long-hitting Steve Quillinan Jr., who moved to Boston a couple of years ago yet still is a member of the Country Club of Troy, claimed his third Tri-County Match Play Championship last weekend at Colonie Golf & Country Club with a 3-and-2 win over Tom McGinn, a player largely forgotten except by his many friends.

While Quillinan, 31, is a familiar name in local golf circles — both his uncle, Joe, and his father, Steve, were longtime standouts at the CC of Troy and Burden Lake Country Club — McGinn’s career faded from the area scene. Quillinan, a former hockey player with plenty of power, has piled up numerous wins, including victories in the Troy Invitational and Rensselaer County Amateur.

But McGinn, a 38-year-old Christian Brothers Academy graduate, was a fine high school player who left the area to play college golf as a walk-on at William & Mary. He then moved to Houston for a job in the energy field and lived there for 10 years before making a career move to New York City in 2016. He recently started his own energy company and moved back to the Capital Region, living in Saratoga Springs. He also rejoined Wolferts Roost Country Club.

“I’m very happy for the opportunity to come back home and see old friends,” said McGinn.  “In Houston, I played a ton of golf. It’s a long season down there. In my first couple of years in New York City, I moved around, playing at Bethpage, Yale and in some Metropolitan Golf Association events. Last year, I joined Wykagyl CC in New Rochelle. Playing golf was my only escape last year during the pandemic. It was wonderful getting out of Manhattan.”

Although he lost in the finals of the Tri-County Match Play, he played well, matching Quillinan’s qualifying-round score of even-par 72 and then advancing to the finale.

“My match against Steve was a lot like my earlier matches on the front nine, but I didn’t put any pressure on him coming down the stretch,” McGinn said. “He was very solid, and I had to be very good to beat him in the finals. I’m excited for the rest of the season with all the local and state stuff on the schedule.”

By the way, McGinn continued his strong early-season play by shooting a 1-under-par 70 in Monday’s U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club. He lost in the second extra hole during a playoff for the final qualifying berth.

Meanwhile, McGinn fell behind early in his match against Quillinan with a three-putt bogey on the first hole. He evened the match with a birdie on the par-5 third hole after reaching the green in two. Both players birdied the fourth hole. After Quillinan nailed his approach shot to 10 feet, McGinn sank a 45-footer to make Quillinan’s putt much tougher.

Quillinan’s fine up-and-down par on the par-3 seventh hole put him ahead, 1-up, and he stretched his lead when McGinn had another three-putt bogey on the ninth hole. Two more birdies, including a 33-footer on the 10th hole, helped pad Quillinan’s lead to 4-up, and he held on for the win.

Quillinan, who had to fend off former champion Jim Welch of Winding Brook 1-up in 24 holes during the semifinals, said he felt comfortable all day at Colonie G&CC.

“I played our high school matches here for a while,” Quillinan said. “Then, I’ve played with some of my friends here all the time. I know the Spitalny brothers [sons of Colonie G&CC owner Peter Spitalny] quite well. I think my length helps here. You can get home in two with longer irons. Some guys have to hit 3-woods or lay up. I think you can reach all the par-5s here. I also putted and chipped well all weekend. I didn’t make a ton of birdies, but I didn’t make a lot of bogeys either.

“It’s my advantage to hit wedges [on par-4s] or to reach the greens in two on par-5s. I need to play to my advantage. In match play, it makes it easier to do that, because I’m not worried about making a double bogey. If you do, you just lose the hole, and I would have lost the hole anyway. I just try to make a lot of birdies.”

Five-time champion Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows had to withdraw because of a back injury.

In the senior division championship, 66-year-old Bob Cooper defeated Mark Russ 4-and-3 to win his sixth T-C Match Play crown. Cooper is a two-time Schenectady Classic (former Schenectady County Amateur) champion.

BERLINER EYES REPEAT

Scott Berliner has been the most dominating golfer in Northeastern New York PGA history — especially in terms of major victories.

The 46-year-old assistant pro at Saratoga Spa Golf Course, and the assistant coach for the Skidmore College men’s golf team, will seek his 11th straight NENY PGA Stroke Play title Tuesday and Wednesday at the Country Club of Troy.

Berliner, a Lake Luzerne native and graduate of Hadley-Luzerne High School, where he played six seasons of varsity golf, attended Adirondack Community College briefly before starting a construction/masonry job down in North Carolina. He quickly realized that he would much rather be in the golf business, and he returned to New York, where he eventually landed assistant pro jobs at Shaker Ridge CC, McGregor Links CC, Normanside CC, Cobleskill G&CC and Hiland Park in Queensbury.

Berliner, the 10-time NENY PGA Player of the Year, has an amazing record since earning his Class A card and becoming eligible for section championship events He’s won 53 times, including an eye-popping 27 majors. Aside from his Stroke Play crowns, he’s won eight Donald Ross Classics, including five in a row, captured four NENY PGA Match Play titles and secured five NENY PGA Professional Championships.  He’s carded a career-best score of 61 twice and owns five holes-in-one.

“My mind is in a pretty good state right now,” said Berliner, who has already won the first two individual section events at Pinehaven CC and Saratoga Golf & Polo Club, as well as earning medalist honors at this week’s U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club. “The golf game obviously comes and goes, but I’m trying to set aside a little time before Tuesday to work on some things that have shown up over the last couple of tournaments. Even though I played pretty well at the U.S. Open qualifier, I’ve been struggling off the tee a little. I’m putting well, and my short game is in a good spot right now. That frees up everything else. I wouldn’t say my confidence level is through the roof, but I’m scoring well and pretty confident.”

Berliner said he knows the CC of Troy layout well, having won there a few times in the past. 

“Strategy there is pivotal,” he said. “You have to know where to hit your shots and where to put it on the green. Troy’s green complex is challenging. You must be in the right spot and can’t be overly aggressive.”

As always, the mental game is the key to everything for Berliner. “I’m still nervous, but if you put yourself in those positions enough, you kind of know how to handle them,” he said. “I work a lot on maintaining my same routine and have the same mental approach on every shot. You can’t make it bigger than it is. I struggle with that a little bit in the bigger, national events. I think I try too hard, but I’m pretty confident around here.”

Berliner has repeatedly said how proud he is of his long consecutive winning streak in the Stroke Play Championship, especially since the legendary Gene Sarazen has his name on the prestigious trophy. 

“I think it’s cool that my name is the only one on the new side of the trophy for the engraving,” he said. “At some point, somebody else will take it, but I’m going to give that person a hard time doing it.”

CHIP SHOTS

Representing the NENY PGA section, Kennedy Swedick shot a 5-over-par 77 to win the overall girls’ title at the NYS PGA Junior Championship last weekend at Leatherstocking Golf Club. Kieran Cummins of the NENY PGA was second in the boys’ division with a 75. Nicole Criscone of the NENY PGA section won the girls’ 15-18 age division with an 85. The event was shortened from 36 holes to 18 because of inclement weather.

Applications for the first major events of the season at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, the Schenectady Women’s Classic June 18-19 and the Schenectady Men’s Classic June 18-20, are now available at the pro shop.

The Tom DeBerry Foundation, named for the late Normanside CC head pro, donated five sets of junior golf clubs to Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course this week.

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).

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

HOLES-IN-ONE

Current Amsterdam City champion Lou Deal aced the 13th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.

Don Dieckmann of the ADO golf league collected the first hole-in-one of the season at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course on the 13th hole.

Also at Schenectady Muni, Don Cross of the Doug Sager league used an 8-iron to ace the same 13th hole.

AJ Cavotta, a Saratoga Springs High School grad and currently playing college golf for Southern New Hampshire, aced the 160-yard 12th hole with a 7-iron during the NCAA Regionals at Lake View Country Club in Pennsylvania. He shot a 1-under-par 70 and claimed the second alternate spot in this week’s U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club.

At Western Turnpike Golf Club, Clayton Wolin registered the first hole-in-one of the season at that facility with his first career ace on the 125-yard fifth hole on the white nine. He used a 9-iron.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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