Up-and-coming star AJ Cavotta is busy settling some old scores and shooting some low ones at the same time this golf season.
One of the many Saratoga Springs golfing standouts who have dominated Section II over the last couple of decades, Cavotta is taking his game to an elite level with aspirations of someday turning pro. Based on his superior performances over the last couple of months, he’s certainly off to an excellent start.
During his inaugural season for the Southern New Hampshire University Penmen this spring, Cavotta earned Northeast-10 Conference Rookie of the Year honors, was named to the NE-10 All-Conference second team and recorded his first career hole-in-one during the NCAA regional tournament. Earlier this week, he also was selected to the Golf Coaches Association of America’s PING All-Region team. Cavotta compiled a 74.8 stroke average over 13 rounds in seven events and recorded four top-five finishes along with two rounds of 69.
Back home to compete in numerous Capital Region major events, Cavotta earned an alternate berth in the U.S. Open local qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club, although he didn’t get a chance to compete at the sectionals.
“Although I never got to the sectionals, I had never played in the local qualifier before. I wasn’t sure how big a deal it was until so many people congratulated me,” Cavotta said.
Then, a few weeks ago, he earned a spot into the New York State Open at the local qualifier at Eagle Crest Golf Club. That prestigious event is set for the middle of this month at Bethpage State Park’s famed Black Course in Farmingdale.
But his notable achievements didn’t stop there. Last weekend, he won the 19th annual Saratoga County Amateur Golf Championship with consecutive scores of 70 at Eagle Crest Golf Club and McGregor Links Country Club, respectively. He won by a whopping 10 strokes over runner-up Ryan Lovelass. The final round was played on his birthday.
“That was redemption for me,” Cavotta said. “Last year when I played in the Saratoga County Amateur, I was struggling for a month near the end of the season when that tournament was played. I shot in the mid-80s and high 70s. I was struggling with my swing. I wanted to come back here and show everyone I’m a little better than that. I was excited to get that win.”
It’s really no surprise that Cavotta is continuing to make a name for himself in local golf circles. Taught how to play by his father, Mike, the long-time Shaker High School golf coach and Section II administrator, AJ Cavotta was a two-time medalist for the NYS Qualifier while playing for the Blue Streaks. Although he made the state team twice, he wasn’t able to compete last year because all the state championships were canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In just a year or so since he graduated from high school, Cavotta has stepped up his game.
“I think my game has changed a good amount,” he said. “Mostly, it’s a mindset more than anything. My swing hasn’t changed much; although I’ve tightened it up a bit. But I’m working on getting fit. I’m working out with [noted physical fitness instructor] Chris Bath three or four times a week. I’ve gotten stronger.”
Cavotta also has worked hard at the mental game.
“There is a change in my mindset,” he said. “In high school I thought that it was OK to shoot 2- or 3-over par, but now I treat it like if I shoot anything above par it’s a bad day. My thought process is to keep it even or under par. I try not to compare myself to other people my age.
“I look at the pros to see where they are at. I figure I’ve got three or four years to get to where they are. I’m not there yet, but I’m working to get to the next level. My goal is that I’m treating my three years left of college as a place where I can work as hard as I can to comfortably graduate and then turn pro and maybe get on the Korn Ferry Tour. I’m far from it right now, but if I keep working I have the motivation to get there.”
Former NENY PGA Stroke Play champion Anders Mattson, who has received numerous local and national teaching awards, is Cavotta’s current instructor, but he appreciates everything his father did to introduce him to the game.
“My dad taught me how to play. I remember going to the par-29 at Saratoga Spa. He brought me, but he never forced me to play,” Cavotta said. “I played five or six sports in high school including baseball and basketball, but as time went on, golf was my favorite sport, mostly because it was an individual sport. I could work hard and everything was on me. I love the fact that everything in golf is on you.”
Cavotta and his father are taking a special golfing trip to the west coast in a couple of weeks, and it should prepare him for the grueling State Open.
“We are going to play Pebble Beach, Spyglass and Spanish Bay right before the State Open. It should be quite a three-day span,” Cavotta said.
Cavotta was asked why so many Saratoga Springs golfers like himself excel in both scholastic and open events.
“It’s unbelievable. I think the biggest reason is our history,” Cavotta said.”A lot of kids come into the program, and they understand that his team has won numerous titles in numerous years. You’ve got guys like Nolan [Crowley] at Siena and Clarkie [Carroll] there now, as well as so many others from the past. The kids are coming into the program and seeing how much success we’ve had as well as the guys before us. They know they need to step it up.”
LOCALS EXCEL AT NYS WOMEN’S AM
Capital Region golfers recorded strong performances at the 91st NYS Women’s Amateur Championship and the 12th NYS Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship this week at Teugega Country Club in Rome.
In the NYS Women’s Amateur, University at Albany’s Madison Walker (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) matched the tournament-low round with a 3-under-par 70 in the final round and finished eighth with a three-round total of 232 (13-over-par), while Nicole Criscone of Eagle Crest Golf Club was ninth (234), Isabella Diaz (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) was 12th (238) and Laura Rentz of Olde Kinderhook was 16th (247).
In the NYS Women’s Mid-Amateur, locals did even better, with Pat Mayne of Western Turnpike (76-77-153) finishing third, Mary Jo Kelly of Wolferts Roost CC (74-81-155) placing fourth and Susan Kahler of Ballston Spa CC (76-83-159) finishing seventh. Other leaders included Kathy Harkins of Ballston Spa CC (83-79-162) and Mary Scatena of Pinehaven CC (81-81-162) tied for 10th.
Five-time Player of the Year and four-time Stroke Play champion Dal Daily of Battenkill Country Club fired a 5-under-par 67 to win the NENY PGA Pro Classic No. 3 this week at Leatherstocking Golf Club. Chris Sanger of Woodstock GC was second with a 68, while Daily’s son, Andrew, who works at Albany CC, was third with a 70. John Durcan won the Legends Division with an 82.
Eagle Crest Golf Club owner/manager Bill Paulsen won his 12th Saratoga County Amateur Senior Division title with a two-day total of 75-76-151 at Eagle Crest GC and McGregor Links CC, respectively. Dave Smith was second with 75-78-153.
A huge field of 116 players will be competing for 18 spots at the NYS Men’s Amateur local qualifier Tuesday at Colonie Golf & Country Club. The 98th annual NYS Men’s Amateur Championship will be hosted by Schuyler Meadows Club Aug. 10-12. Local players exempt from qualifying include John Downey (CC of Troy), Mike Dwyer (The Edison Club), Jim Gifford (Mohawk GC), David Hayes (Schuyler Meadows Club), Dan Russo (Schuyler Meadows Club), Mike Stopera (The Edison Club), Luis Walsh (Ballston Spa CC) and Jim Welch (Olde Kinderhook).
Cobleskill Golf & Country Club will host the fourth annual Schoharie County Amateur Championship Aug. 7. It will be sponsored by Mohawk Honda. Amateur golfers from throughout the Capital Region are invited to compete in the Open Division, Men’s Division, Men’s Senior Division (age 55 and older), Men’s Super Senior Division (65 and older), Women’s Division and Senior Women’s division. This year there also will be a Junior Division for youth 18 years old and younger. Entry fee is $48, including golf and cart. Edward Kinley of Wolferts Roost CC won the Open Division last year with a 67. Bruce Bartlet, John Dahl and Deb Langevin were the other division winners. For more information, contact the Cobldeskill G&CC pro shop at 518-234-4045.
Cobleskill Golf & Country Club is also hosting its Ladies Invitational honoring longtime member Ilene Gaffney on Aug. 9. The event will have a 9 a.m. shotgun start and will have a better ball of two format, with gross and net prizes. Entry fee is $160 per team. The field is limited to 36 teams. Entry deadline is July 23. Maximum handicap index is 35.7. Send entries to Janet Williams, 425 Myers Road Howes Cave, NY 12092 or contact her at 518-231-3700.
Van Patten Golf Club is offering a Summer Tournament Series that includes the RVP Two-Player Scramble on July 17, the Ralph Maru Classic 36-Hole Ringer July 24-25, the Three Tee Challenge Aug. 7, the 27-Hole Iron Man Aug. 21 and the VP 36-Hole Club Championship Sept. 11-12. For more information, contact Van Patten Golf Club at 518-877-5400.
Tony Komon collected his second career hole-in-one with a 6-iron on the 154-yard 24th hole at Van Patten Golf Club.
Also at Van Patten GC, Sandy Ward aced the same 24th hole with a driver from 152 yards. She’s been playing golf for just three years.
At Normanside CC, Bernie Jorgensen posted his first hole-in-one with a 5-hybrid on the 170-yard sixth hole.
Mark Compton holed out from the fairway on the par-4 ninth hole for an eagle-2 at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
At Mechanicville Golf Club, PJ Riley holed out with a sand wedge for an eagle-2 on the par-4 third hole.
In the Handicappers league at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, Gary Costanzo eagled the par-5 second hole, and Tim Smith eagled the par-5 ninth hole.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected]
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