Down the Fairway: Despite late changes, pros capture Challenge Cup

Brad Gardner, head pro at The Edison Club, tees off during the Challenge Cup at Schuyler Meadows Club. The pros beat the amateurs for the first time since 2014. (Bob Weiner photo)

Brad Gardner, head pro at The Edison Club, tees off during the Challenge Cup at Schuyler Meadows Club. The pros beat the amateurs for the first time since 2014. (Bob Weiner photo)

A common theme in all sports is being able to adjust to unexpected changes in personnel, playing conditions and/or execution. The local pros from the Northeastern New York PGA made all the right moves this week. They were forced to scramble to fill their roster on late notice, adapted to the tricky wind conditions and even made a few tweaks on the greens for the annual Challenge Cup Thursday against the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association all-stars at Schuyler Meadows.

In less than 24 hours, three of the projected players on the pro team for this popular match-play competition backed out for various reasons. Wyantenuck CC head pro Marc Levesque and Taconic Golf Club head pro Josh Hillman, a two-time NENY PGA Stroke Play titlist and the 2008 section Player of the Year, both had to pull out because of a sudden and unexpected shortage of staff at their facilities. Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr, the 2003 NENY PGA Player of the Year, woke up with an illness.

That left Executive Director Tracie Warner and Town of Colonie director of golf Noel Gebauer, the pros’ captain for this event, trying to find replacements — and quickly. Fortunately, Gebauer simply shifted gears and became a playing captain to fill Levesque’s shoes. Pinehaven CC assistant pro Matt McPhillips, a rare lefty, filled in for Kerr, while Fox Run GC owner and section president Rich Scott replaced Hillman.

Despite all the roster changes, the local pros rallied from an 11-7 deficit on the front nine to snap a four-match losing streak and defeat the amateurs 28.5-25.5 for the first time since 2014. The teams consisted of 12 players chosen off each organization’s player-of-the-year point list. Each two-person team could win as many as nine points for capturing the front nine, the back nine and the total of their team match and the two individual matches being contested concurrently.

The Challenge Cup matches weren’t played in 2020 because of the pandemic, and logistical problems like poor weather also wiped out the event in 2018. The pros cut their deficit in the all-time series to 17-13-2, including a 12-11-2 mark since the Challenge Cup was resurrected by The Daily Gazette in 2005. Previously, the Ryder Cup-like competition was known as the Yamaha Cup and then the Smith Cup, after longtime Wolferts Roost CC head pro Bob Smith, from 1976 through 1979 and then again from 1984 until 1989.

The NENY PGA team was overjoyed to break its losing streak, especially with so much pressure on the local pros to beat their amateur counterparts who don’t play as part of their living.

“The amateur base here in the area is so strong, anytime we come out and win this event, it feels great,” Gebauer said. “The camaraderie out here, to be just enjoying the day out here with the amateurs and a great place like Schuyler Meadows, is amazing.”

Gebauer pointed out that there were indeed “challenges” to meet at this year’s Challenge Cup.

“The wind made play very difficult,” he said. “Playing the black [championship or longest] tees gave a little bit of an advantage to the younger players.”

The stars for the pros included Woodstock GC head pro Chris Sanger (six points), The Edison Club head pro Brad Gardner (five points), McPhillips (4.5 points) and Albany CC head pro Glenn Davis (four points). For the amateurs, Glenn’s son, Ryan, who is now a junior at Fordham University, swept all six points, while Saratoga National GCs Travis Koch posted 5.5 points.

“I’ve only played this course once before,” said Sanger. “It’s a great place. I enjoyed the competition. I think this is only the second time I’ve played in the Challenge Cup.”

Sanger’s partner was Gardner, who nailed his approach shot to within a foot on the 18th hole for a tap-in birdie to win the match over the amateur tandem of CC of Troy’s Dave Mooradian and former Tri-County Match Play and CRAGA Stroke Play champion Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie.

“We were 4-up after eight holes, and then we let them back in it,” Gardner lamented. “It was a blast competing in this. Just getting out to play is very enjoyable for me. The last time I played in this was when the Challenge Cup was played at The Edison Club.”

Glenn Davis, the 2009 NENY PGA Player of the Year, made a big change in his putting stroke to rally in his match.

“On the back nine, I was putting so badly that after another three-putt on the 10th hole I switched my putting stroke to my version of Jack Nicklaus,” Davis said with a laugh. “I crunched down really low and used a chicken-wing stroke with my arms. It worked for a few holes. I’m sure I’ll stick with it for about three rounds and then switch to something else.”

The highlight of Davis’ round was an eagle on the par-5 13th hole. He also rolled in two birdies.

“I haven’t played in this for a couple of years, mostly because I wasn’t playing that well myself and I had a shortage of staff, but I’ve got some good staff support now and I’m hoping to play a lot more. I really enjoy playing in this competition,” Davis said.

Despite the loss, the amateurs also enjoyed the competition.

“I love this place. It’s unbelievable,” said Koch, who notched a pair of birdies, including a chip-in on the 15th hole. “Ryan [Davis, his partner] carried me all day. The wind was pretty tough out there today.”

Ryan Davis, like Koch, was playing in his first Challenge Cup.

“I struck the ball pretty well, and we were in command for our entire match,” he said about his foes, Scott and Gebauer. “I had just one birdie, on the 13th hole, but I was strong off the tee and made a lot of pars.”

David Hayes of the host club and Joe Fitzsimmons of Shaker Ridge CC, a former pro, each posted 3.5 points for the amateurs, whose team was put together by 63-year-old captain Dan Russo, the Capital Region’s all-time leader in major victories.

CHALLENGE CUP RESULTS

NENY PGA (28.5) — Tom Oppedisano (Skidmore College) 2.5, Matt McPhillips (Pinehaven CC) 4.5, Dal Daily (Battenkill CC) 3.5, Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 4.0, Brad Gardner (The Edison Club) 5.0, Chris Sanger (Woodstock GC) 6.0, Noel Gebauer (Town of Colonie GC) 0.0, Rich Scott (Fox Run GC) 0.5, Justin Hearley (Normanside CC) 3.0, Ian Breen (Whiteface Resort & GC) 3.5, Scott Battiste (Eagle Crest GC) 3.5, Dan Kinn (Achushnet) 2.5.

CRAGA (25.5) — David Hayes (Schuyler Meadows Club) 3.5, Jim Mueller (Orchard Creek GC) 1.5, Lance Hope (Schenectady Municipal GC) 2.5, Griff Hunter (E-club-Capital District) 2.0, David Mooradian (CC of Troy) 1.0, Chad Stoffer (Town of Colonie GC) 0.0, Ryan Davis (Albany CC) 6.0, Travis Koch (Saratoga National GC) 5.5, Dan Russo (Schuyler Meadows Club) 3.0, Alex Bringsjord (CC of Troy) 2.5, Ben Bates (Schenectady Municipal GC) 2.5, Joe Fitzsimmons (Shaker Ridge CC) 3.5.

EDISON DUO TRIUMPHS

With an eagle barrage, Michael Dwyer and Mike Stopera of The Edison Club carded a sizzling 10-under-par 62 in the final round for a two-day total of 14-under-par 130 to rally past first-round leaders Dan Russo of Schuyler Meadows Club and Jim Gifford of Mohawk GC in the 10th NYS Men’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship last Sunday and Monday at Leatherstocking Golf Club.

Dwyer and Stopera, who teed off two hours before the first-round leaders, eagled the par-5 fourth, 11th, 14th and 15th holes and birdied the par-5 18th hole.

“Whenever we had an eagle putt, we capitalized, which was great,” said Dwyer in a NYSGA press release. “Nothing was outside of 10 feet. They were all six-to-eight footers.”

“We caught fire there and weren’t really thinking about it,” Stopera added. “When we were out there, we didn’t really think we were going to win the golf tournament.”

Dwyer and Stopera earned exemptions into the NYS Men’s Amateur at Schuyler Meadows Club in August.
Corey Purcell and Tom Salmon of Shaker Ridge CC finished in the top five with a 134, which included a tournament-low individual round of 61.

CHIP SHOTS

The McGregor Links Country Club Invitational is set for June 11-12 and will consist of three scratch divisions: Championship (gold tees), Senior (age 50 and older, white markers) and Super Senior (age 65 and older, also white markers). The format will be 36 holes of four-ball. Entry fee is $300 per team. Contact head pro Michael Decker at 518-584-6664 for more information.

Susan Kahler, Roxanne Andrews and Heidi Harkins of Ballston Spa CC teamed up with Mary Scatena of Pinehaven CC to win the NEWGA Four-Player Scramble last week at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course with a gross score of 59. The overall net champs with a 57.6 were Kathleen McLaughlin and Kim Lloyd of Shaker Ridge CC, Mary Ann Keeler of Western Turnpike GC and Celene McManus of Colonie G&CC. Saratoga Golf & Polo Club hosts the next NEWGA tournament June 8.

Local pros compete in the NENY PGA Pro-Pro at Albany Country Club on Tuesday.

Guilderland native Bob Royak, 59, won the 40th annual Georgia Mid-Amateur at The Country Club of Columbus this week.

After a year off because of COVID-19, the 30th annual John C. Daly-James W. Michaels ALS Memorial Open to benefit St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center will be held Sept. 22 at Van Patten Golf Club. This event has raised more than $2.3 million in the previous 29 years. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there only will be one flight this year, an 11 a.m. shotgun for the new scramble format. Entry forms will be mailed out in mid-June to past players.

Siena College’s men’s golf team announced the signing of Nick Lyons of Albany Academy and Dan Brooks of Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, Massachusetts. Lyons was the NENY PGA Player of the Year in 2018, made the All-NYS team in 2019 and medaled in 10 of his 13 varsity matches in 2020. He helped Albany Academy win 250 consecutive regular-season matches. Brooks won the 2020 Massachusetts High School State Championship, secured the 2020 Bay State Cup and finished in the top-five at both the Cape Cod Junior Classic and The Challenge Cup Championship in 2020.

Briar Creek Golf Course hosts the Bud Light Tournament June 11. The four-person scramble begins with a 9 a.m. shotgun start. Entry fee is $75 person and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at the turn (hamburger, hot dog and beer/soda) and a buffet dinner after golf. Call the pro shop (518-355-6145) for reservations.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course will offer junior golf camps June 28-July 2 and July 5-9 at a cost of $100 per student. Students will learn the full swing, short game, rules of the game, course etiquette, etc. Lunch will be served every day. The camp runs from 9 a.m. until noon each day. Sign up at the pro shop or call 518-382-3155 for more information.

Registration for the eighth annual NYS Amateur Mixed Team Championship at Brook-Lea CC in Rochester on June 14 closes June 1 at 5 p.m. Entry fee is $225.

HOLES-IN-ONE

In one of the sport’s rarest achievements, Bruce Hopkins recorded a hole-in-one on the par-4 12th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
Steve Alviene used an 8-iron for his hole-in-one on the 132-yard sixth hole at Normanside Country Club. It was his second career ace.

EAGLES

Ross LeBlanc (second hole) and Grant Ward (ninth hole), both from the GE Lab league, posted eagles at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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