LOUDONVILLE — While most of this elite 147-player field was struggling under hot and extremely breezy conditions, former Siena College basketball standout Kyle Downey of Rochester was comfortable and cruising during the opening round of the 98th NYS Men’s Amateur Golf Championship Tuesday at Schuyler Meadows Club.
Downey, a Locust Hill Country Club member who will be 32 in a couple of weeks, carded a 6-under-par 66 that included an eagle on the par-5 13th hole. He tacked on five birdies and gave up just one bogey on the seventh hole.
“I like the heat,” said the 2012 Siena grad. “If it’s 110 degrees out, that’s fine for me. I’m used to working out and playing hard in basketball. The hotter, the better for me.”
Downey said the key for him was to keep the ball in the fairway, as the rough at Schuyler Meadows was extremely high and thick.
He birdied the second, ninth, 10th, 17th and 18th holes. Downey credited two excellent up-and-down pars on the 14th and 15th holes for keeping his outstanding round going. The only blemish was a bogey on the seventh hole, when his tee shot landed behind a tree, blocking his approach to the green.
“The wind was very strong today, and I was trying to get comfortable. You wanted to make sure you kept the ball away from where the wind was blowing – toward the out-of-bounds stakes,” he said.
Downey said Tuesday’s performance was set up by the momentum he began in mid-summer.
“I had a rough start, because the weather was very bad in Rochester,” Downey said. “Plus, I have a bad back, and that’s one of the reasons I like the heat so much. My game started coming around June 1, when I finished in the top 25 in the Monroe Invitational. Recently, I finished second in the Rochester Districts. That’s the fourth time I finished second in that tournament.”
Downey also nearly qualified for the prestigious U.S. Amateur. After getting off to a rough start on the first 18 holes during the 36-hole qualifier at Seven Oaks, he thought about quitting if he didn’t get off to a much better start in the second round. But he went on a birdie tear and nearly earned a qualifying spot, coming up just two shots short.
“I still enjoy playing golf, but life is a lot different for me now,” Downey said. “I’ve got an 11-month-old daughter now. It seems like ages ago that I played at Siena.”
Although Downey has local ties with Siena, which uses Schuyler Meadows as its home course, the leader among the local natives was Sean Puleo of the host club. He posted a 2-under-par 70 as part of the morning wave and tied for second with James Allen of Scarsdale Golf Club and Ryan Hart of the Country Club of Buffalo.
“It was good out there,” said the Albany Academy and Washington & Lee University product. “If I didn’t know the course the way I do, my round could have been a lot different. The course was playing fast, and you didn’t need the driver that much. About 260 yards off the tee was about all you needed. I used to play this course every day, but sometimes you wake up and wonder why the course is playing that much tougher.”
Puleo said his priorities have changed recently, as he is finishing up his CPA degree and getting ready to start his job in Washington D.C. “I’m relaxed now, because the golf doesn’t mean quite as much. I just want to play well,” he said.
Former pro Joe Fitzsimmons of Shaker Ridge CC posted one of the better scores in the afternoon wave with a 1-over-par 73. The former CRAGA Stroke Play champion, now 37, battled the strongest wind gusts of the day.
“I’m happy with the way I played,” he said. “I’m not disappointed. It was very windy. I was patient. The greens were firm, and the rough was tall.”
Eight-time Schenectady Classic winner and former NYS Senior Amateur champ Pratico had one of the best local performances with a 2-over-par 74.
“I played pretty well,” said the 60-year-old Pratico, who plays out of Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. “On the front nine, I hit all nine greens and two-putted all of them. I had a little more trouble on the back.”
Pratico bogeyed the 10th, 12th and 16th holes on the back nine but sank a four-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole. He also made key up-and-down pars on the final two holes.
Also shooting 74 was Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club. The Shenendehowa High School and Siena College product bogeyed the second through the fifth holes but rallied back with a couple of birdies and an eagle on the par-4 10th hole.
“It was very windy out there,” said Gifford, who played late in the afternoon and got the full force of the wind.
AJ Cavotta, a Saratoga Springs High School and Southern New Hampshire University product, shot 75, which included bogeys in four out of his final five holes. He was a couple under par at one point with birdies on the second, third and 13th holes. “I tend to rifle off a few bogeys in a row. I’m a little streaky,” Cavotta said. “It was just a little mental mistake on each hole.”
But Cavotta has been enjoying a tremendous summer on the links. He qualified for and competed well at the New York State Open, was an alternate for the U.S. Open sectional qualifier and also won the Saratoga County Amateur Golf Championship. “It’s been a good summer – a lot of fun,” he said.
Other top Capital Region players included Louis Walsh of Ballston Spa CC (75), Benjamin Rublee of the Country Club of Troy (76), eight-time Schenectady Classic champ Jim Mueller of Orchard Creek (77), two-time Schenectady Classic titlist and former NYS Junior Boys’ champ Ben Bates (77), Jimmy King of Mohawk Golf Club (77), Nolan Crowley of Saratoga Golf & Polo (78), Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie (79), two-time NYS Senior Amateur champion Dan Russo of the host club (79), David Mooradian of the CC of Troy (79) , Matt Welch of the CC of Troy (79), Ryan Foster of the host club (79) and Travis Deuel of Hiland Park CC (79).
There will be a cut to the low 40 and ties, plus anyone within 10 shots of the lead, following Wednesday’s second round. The remaining players will play 36 holes on Thursday.
Leaders – Kyle Downey (Locust Hill CC) 66, Sean Puleo (Schuyler Meadows) 70, James Allen (Scarsdale GC) 70, Ryan Hart (CC of Buffalo) 70, Matthew Ferrari (Met PGA Junior Golf Club) 72, Doug Kleeschulte (Wiltwyck GC) 72, Bandon Grzywacz (Seldridge GC) 72, Jud Langille (Met PGA Junior GC) 72.
Capital Region scores – Joe Fitzsimmons (Shaker Ridge CC) 73, Paul Pratico (Schenectady Municipal) 74, Jim Gifford (Mohawk GC) 74, Louis Walsh (Ballston Spa CC) 75, AJ Cavotta (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) 75, Benjamin Rublee (CC of Troy) 76, Jim Mueller (Orchard Creek GC) 77, Ben Bates (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) 77, Jimmy King (Mohawk GC) 77, Paul Goetz (The Edison Club) 77, Steve Quillinan Jr. (CC of Troy) 77, Nolan Crowley (Saratoga G&P) 78, Matt Clarke (Cazenovia CC) 78, Chad Stoffer (Town of Colonie) 79, Matt Welch (CC of Troy) 79, Ryan Foster (Schuyler Meadows) 79, Dan Russo (Schuyler Meadows) 79, David Mooradian (CC of Troy) 79, David Hayes (Schuyler Meadows) 80, Mike Dwyer (The Edison Club) 82, Mike Stopera (The Edison Club) 82, Nick Lyons (Schuyler Meadows) 82, Christopher Rust (Shaker Ridge CC) 82, Jack Downey (CC of Troy) 83, Jeff Lewandowski (CC of Troy) 84, Chris Falvey (Schuyler Meadows) 84, Jim Welch (Olde Kinderhook) 84, Aidan Fitzgerald (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) 84, John Foster (Shaker Ridge CC) 86, Tim Flanigan (NYSGA eClub-Capital District) 86, Travis Koch (Saratoga National) 87, Travis Deuel (Hiland Park GC) 88.
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