Down the Fairway: Schenectady Classic set to tee off

Dan Russo, 63, of Hagaman won his first Schenectady Classic last season at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. The three-day event runs Friday through next Sunday. (Bob Weiner photo)

Dan Russo, 63, of Hagaman won his first Schenectady Classic last season at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. The three-day event runs Friday through next Sunday. (Bob Weiner photo)

The Schenectady Classic, which tees off Father’s Day weekend and runs Friday through next Sunday, continues to elevate its status as one of the Capital Region’s oldest and best medal-play tournaments.

Formerly known as the Gazette Schenectady County Amateur, the tournament was the highlight of the season for many county residents, beginning when the legendary Sig Makofski, better known for his phenomenal coaching exploits in many team sports, won the first two County Ams in 1951 and 1952. For nearly 70 years, only county residents were eligible to participate.

Such area standouts as Johnny Maurycy, who later went on to a long career as head pro at Mohawk Golf Club, Stu Smith, another longtime professional at Van Schaick Islands CC, and Dave Philo Jr., who had a distinguished pro career down south after lighting up the scoreboards on the NENY PGA Tour, distinguished themselves in this popular event.

Other notables with multiple wins include eight-time champ Jim Mueller, seven-time winner Paul Pratico, five-time victor Rob Bigley Sr., three-time winners Bill Moll, Rob Bigley Jr., Bill Frutchy, Ed Chylinski, Mike Bayus, Art Hemker and Doug Grabowski and two-time champs Bryan Bigley, Bob Cooper, Ben Bates, Tom Salmon and Fred Maurer. Bryan Bigley went on to play on several pro tours for about 15 years.

The Schenectady County Amateur field was always loaded back in the day, and the number of entries reached nearly 180 at one point. But eventually, the entries began to dwindle — as was the case with many area tournaments over the last decade or so.

That’s when current head pro Matt Daley took a chance with a new format, changing the name of the event and allowing non-county residents to participate in 2016. So far, Daley’s move has paid off, with many of the area’s top players coming to Schenectady for one of the few multiple-day events still left on the calendar.

“I think this tournament is great,” said Hagaman’s Dan Russo, a Schuyler Meadows Club member who won last year’s Schenectady Classic in his first attempt.

Russo, 63, a former NYS Senior Amateur champion, is the Capital Region’s all-time leader in “major” victories with 19, including nine Capital Region Amateur Golf Championships, two Tri-County Golf Association Stroke Play Championships, five TCGA Match Play Championships, two Troy Invitational crowns and one Times Union Amateur Championship, an event no longer played.

Russo, who is competing in the Troy Invitational this weekend, is a big fan of the Schenectady Classic.

“I think just about everybody except Jim Gifford played in the tournament a year ago. I hadn’t played at Schenectady Municipal since my son was in high school and we played 18 holes there to get him ready for a match,” said Russo, who has also competed in 11 national USGA events.

“I saw that they cleared out a lot of trees that didn’t belong, and they put in some excellent new tees, like the one on the 15th hole,” Russo said. “It was great playing there last year. It was in really good shape, and they do a good job over there.”

Russo likes the fact that Muni’s layout doesn’t necessarily favor one type of golfer over another in terms of ball-strikers vs. short-game specialists.

“I would say it’s kind of a half-and-half type of course,” he said. “Certain holes you have to hit the ball in the fairway in order to make a good score, but they do have five par-5s, and you can reach the second, ninth and 16th holes in two without too much trouble. I would say everybody can reach three of the par-5s. Plus, they have some very good driving holes, like the 11th hole, which is very tight. I think Schenectady Muni is a very good golf course and I’m happy they made all of those excellent renovations I’m looking forward to playing.”

Russo will have plenty of competition from the likes of former champs Mueller (13 total Schenectady Classic open and senior event wins), Pratico (11 total Schenectady Classic open and senior event wins), Bates, Cooper and Salmon (three total Schenectady Classic titles including last year’s Schenectady Senior Classic triumph).

Other standouts in the men’s field include former Troy Invy winner and multiple Schenectady Classic runner-up Lance Hope, former CRAGA Stroke Play and Tri-County Match Play winner Chad Stoffer, former NYS Mid-Amateur, and multiple Troy Invitational/CRAGA Stroke Play and Tri-County Match Play champ Jim Welch, Greg Bennett, Joe Fitzsimmons, Todd Czepiel, Jim Toomey, Mike Stopera, Glenn Stopera, Connor Adams and Kyle Adams.

In the two-day women’s division, standouts include former champion and seven-time NEWGA titlist Nancy Kroll, Deb DiMaggio, Anne Poulin, Grace Kochan, Laura Coach and defending NEWGA titlist Rachel Barlette. Defending champion Pat Mayne, a three-time NEWGA Championship winner, hadn’t signed up yet as of this writing.

CHIP SHOTS

Van Patten Golf Course, the popular 27-hole course in Clifton Park, has been sold, according to director of golf Adam Panagopoulos.

Local representatives and cousins Madison Braman and Nicholas Braman are the two-time defending champions of the NYS Amateur Team Mixed Championships, set for Monday at Brook-Lea Country Club in Rochester. The Bramans won in both 2018 and 2019. There was no tournament last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament is divided into two divisions: amateur and senior amateur. They play 18 holes of modified Chapman (alternate shot) stroke play. Sue Kahler and Gary Kahler are former champions in the senior amateur division. Mary Jo Kelly of Wolferts Roost CC is also a former NYS champion in the field and will be competing with her husband, Ray.

The Donald Ross Classic, the second major of the season for the Northeastern New York PGA club pros, is being contested Sunday at The Sagamore Resort and finishes up Monday at Glens Falls Country Club.

Also slated for Monday will be the U.S. Girls’ Junior Qualifier at Yahnundasis Golf Club in New Hartford. Kennedy Swedick is the only local girl competing out of 16 players in the field. There is one spot and two alternate positions at stake for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Amateur Championship July 12-17 at Columbia CC. The U.S. Boys’ Junior Qualifier is being held at the same time, with 33 players competing for two spots and two alternate positions. The U.S. Boys’ Junior Amateur Championship will be held July 19-24 at the Country Club of North Carolina. Locals in the field include Kellen Dean of Saratoga Springs, Jimmy King of Niskayuna, Ryan Lovelass of Galway, Nick Lyons of Albany, Clarkie Carroll of Wilton and Will Braxton of Saratoga Springs.

Michael Sweeney and AJ Cavotta shared medalist honors with even-par 72 at Thursday’s New York State Open local qualifier at Eagle Crest Golf Club. Also qualifying were Jud Langille (73), Justin Lane (73), Chris Sanger (73), Kevin Johnston (74), Daniel McGuirk (74), Nolan Crowley (74) and Joe Monte (74). The New York State Open will be held July 13-15 Bethpage Black on Long Island.

Speaking of Cavotta, the former Saratoga Springs High School standout now playing for Southern New Hampshire University, was named the Northeast-10 Conference Rookie of the Year. He finished 15th at the NE-10 Championships and recorded a hole-in-one at the NCAA Division II Atlantic/East Regional.

Clarkie Carroll of Wilton shot an sizzling 8-under-par 64 in the final round for a two-day total of 6-under-par 138 to win the boys’ overall title, and Kennedy Swedick of Albany shot a 73-75-148 to claim the overall title in the girls’ competition at the Northeastern New York PGA Junior PGA Boys’ and Girls’ Championship last weekend at Town of Colonie Golf Course. Trey Smith of Greenville (70-77-147) was the boys’ runner-up, and Nicole Criscone of Clifton Park (81-78-159) was the girls’ runner-up. Carroll and Smith advance to the 45th PGA Boys Junior Championship at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Kentucky, July 12-15. Swedick and Criscone advance to the 45th PGA Girls Junior Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, July 27-30.

Local tournament director James Miller announced this week that USC graduate Gabby Ruffels will be the second sponsor exemption, joining Kennedy Swedick, for the Symetra Tour’s Twin Bridges Championship July 23-25 at Pinehaven Country Club. Ruffels won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 219 and was runner-up in 2020. She has competed in a handful of LPGA Tour events on sponsor exemptions and has made the cut several times.

HOLES-IN-ONE

Steve Driscoll collected his second career ace with a 22 degree hybrid on the 156-yard 15th hole at Hiland Park Country Club in Queensbury.

EAGLES

At Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, Jim Geiger eagled the par-5 third hole and then eagled the par-5 10th hole in consecutive rounds.

Also at Amsterdam Municipal, John Wall collected an eagle-2 on the par-4 first hole.

While playing in the A.O.H. league at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, John Cintula eagled the par-5 12th hole.

Also at Schenectady Municipal, Bob Mantello eagled the par-5 16th hole.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

Categories: Sports

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