SCHENECTADY — Score one for the old guys.
Sixty-year-old Paul Pratico recorded his record-tying eighth Schenectady Classic championship by holding off a group of long-hitting young guns in the tightly contested final round Sunday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Every facet of Pratico’s solid all-around game was severely tested, including his always-consistent ball-striking, all parts of his short game and his emotions — especially his nerves and his patience. He wasn’t quite as sharp with his ball-striking as usual, but he made up for it with numerous up-and-down pars, and he battled his nerves coming down the stretch to post a 1-over-par 73 in the final round for a three-day total of even-par 216. He is now tied with Jim Mueller for the most Schenectady Classic victories in this tournament begun in 1951.
Lance Hope, a Schenectady Municipal regular who has finished runner-up numerous times, once again tied for second and was the clubhouse leader with a 70-217. Pratico needed par on the final hole to clinch the title, while 23-year-old Kyle Adams had a chance to tie Pratico by sinking a birdie putt from just off the green. The Edison Club member’s putt lipped out, leaving him tied with Hope with an even-par 72 in the final round and a 217 total.
Nobody knows the Muni layout better than Pratico, who grew up in a house just off the par-3 15th hole. The former pro has been in contention for the title virtually every season since having his amateur status restored more than 30 years ago. Along with his eight regular Schenectady Classic crowns, he owns four Schenectady Senior Classic titles. He also has a NYS Senior Amateur title and an Eagle Crest Shootout crown on his solid resume.
“As you get older, you never know when you’ll be in position again to win,” Pratico said. “The competition got a lot stronger in this tournament, and it was a good field. It was hard and fast and they had some difficult pins. That’s what toughens up this course.
“I was playing each hole one at a time. I knew Jimmy [Mueller], Lance or somebody could shoot a 68 or a 69 out there. Dan Russo could come out with a 67 and be right in it. The pins were really tough. You had to tip-toe around them. I made some good saving par putts and up-and-downs. I’ve worked on that part of my game by chipping and putting every night here. You don’t want to be chipping that much and expect to win the tournament, but it paid off this year because I saved a lot of pars.”
Pratico was rock-solid on the front nine with seven pars. His only glitch was a three-putt bogey on the eighth hole after missing a very short par putt from underneath the hole.
“I’ve always had those fast, downhill ones, so when I had an uphill one, I couldn’t force myself to hit it harder and bang it too far by the cup,” said Pratico, who closed out the front nine with a birdie on the ninth hole after reaching the green in two.
On the back nine, he was almost as steady. He three-putted the par-5 12th hole for a bogey, but then nearly aced the par-3 13th hole, settling for a six-inch tap-in birdie. The 215-yard, par-3 15th hole was almost disastrous for him, however, as he suffered a double bogey after hitting his tee shot behind a tree.
“The shot on 15 was a pretty weak shot,” he said. “The tree was in the way, and I took my chances by going out to the left and then chipping back onto the green. Maybe I should have tried to bounce the ball under the tree, but I was afraid of hitting the ball through the green. Then my bogey putt lipped out.”
Pratico nailed a 12-foot for birdie on the par-3 17th hole and then reached the 18th green in regulation and two-putted for par after his birdie putt settled about two feet from the cup.
“The last day, I was a little nervy,” he admitted. “These young guys have better nerves than me, and they can bang their putts by the hole and aren’t afraid of making the putts coming back. I tried to lag my putts up and have a nice tap-in for par.”
Hope, who has a Troy Invitational title under his belt, made another strong run at his first Schenectady Classic win, but a double bogey on the 16th hole ultimately derailed him.
“I was playing well, and I wasn’t thinking about winning at that point,” Hope said. “It was just play the next hole and stay out of trouble. I did well until we got to the 16th hole. I hit my tee shot into the water, and I couldn’t make par. I tried to play it safe by hitting a 3-wood, but I hit it into the water and made a mess of it the rest of the way.”
Hope closed out his round with a par on the 17th hole and a birdie on the 18th hole to make it interesting. He had been struggling with his game recently and didn’t expect to be in contention.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make the cut. I had no expectations,” he said. “I played decent the first round, but I still didn’t believe at that point. I knew that at any point I could lose my swing. But I was comfortable today.”
Adams, Griffith Hunter and Pratico were all tied for the lead heading into the 17th hole, setting up a dramatic finish. But Hunter three-putted for bogey, Adams made a par and Pratico birdied to give him a one-shot lead over Adams headed into the final hole.
“I thought I hit a good putt,” Adams said about his birdie attempt on the final hole that lipped out after making a 360 degree turn around the cup. “But that happens. I missed a couple of short ones today. Mr. Pratico shot super today. I knew he was going to shoot around par. I made a couple of mistakes today, I definitely had some jitters, and I missed some short putt early. But down the stretch, I felt confident. I was hitting the ball well and happened to leave one short at the end.”
Hunter, a 34-year-old Schodack resident, put on a long-driving exhibition on the wide-open holes. He had only 140 yards in for his second shot on the par-5 second hole, and he nearly drove the green on the uphill par-4 seventh hole. Earlier in the tournament, he drove the green on the opening hole.
“It’s always been part of my game,” he said of his length off the tee. “But when it comes down to it, I aspire to hit it straight as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit my irons that well today, and I bogeyed the last two holes. I knew I had to make it from the fairway to have any chance at the end. But I’m happy. It was fun being in contention.”
One of the key moments in the tournament involved Hunter, who hit his tee shot into the environmentally protected area just past the hazard on the par-5 16th hole. The course rules stipulate when that happens a player is entitled to a free drop from a drop area beyond the hazard. Hunter took advantage and reached the green with his second shot, setting up a two-putt birdie that helped him move into a tie for the lead with Pratico and Adams. But Pratico’s birdie putt and Hunter’s bogey on the next hole pushed Pratico back in front.
Paul Pratico 73-216, Kyle Adams 72-217, Lance Hope 70-217, Greg Stopera 70-218, Ben Bates 69-219, Dan Russo 70-219, Griffith Hunter 75-219, Clint Lange 73-222, Joe Fitzsimmons 71-222, Jim Mueller 77-222, Mike Stopera 75-223, Alex Olbrych 71-222, Connor Adams 74-223, Tom McGinn 76-228, Nick Braman 75-228 Mark Chylinski 78-229, Mike Wheeler 78-229, Jim Welch 79-229, Rob Bigley 80-230, Joe Marro 78-230, Richard Duff 81-234.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].
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