Down the Fairway: Clifton Park’s Criscone is rising star on course

Albany Academy standout Nicole Criscone of Clifton Park has won more than 100 junior golf events, including her fourth Hurricane Junior Golf Tour title last week in Chicopee, Mass. (Photo provided)

Albany Academy standout Nicole Criscone of Clifton Park has won more than 100 junior golf events, including her fourth Hurricane Junior Golf Tour title last week in Chicopee, Mass. (Photo provided)

Clifton Park’s Nicole Criscone basked in the national spotlight as a 10-year-old, when she competed in the national Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club in 2016. She’s continued to excel ever since, and is one of the Capital Region’s brightest up-and-coming stars.

Some of the memories from that fantastic experience, which included a second-place finish in the putting competition in the 10-11-year-old division, are beginning to fade a little, but that’s only because Nicole, now completing her junior year at Albany Academy for Girls, is making so many new memories of some terrific achievements.

“Most of the parts of that trip I remember, like what happened on the green and stuff like that,” she said in a telephone interview this week. “I remember I got a chance to meet Bubba Watson, and Jason Day was eating lunch next to us. Then I met Condoleeza Rice [former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor] and Lou Holtz [former Notre Dame football coach]. That was a fun time.”

Criscone is still having fun and still recording some great moments on the golf course. Last weekend, she won her fourth Hurricane Junior Golf Tour title in Chicopee, Massachusetts. She’s won the Northeastern New York PGA Player of the Year award for her age division seven times while capturing more than 70 titles. Criscone also already has more than 100 wins on the U.S. Kids Tour. Don’t forget that she’s still only in high school.

Last summer, she earned a third-place finish in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, which made her fully exempt for competition on that prestigious national tour for elite youth players this summer. She’s competed in the PGA Junior Championship a couple of times, and has helped the Albany Academy for Girls team go undefeated three straight seasons along with a sectional title last fall. She will be shooting for a NYS scholastic championship June 4-6 at McGregor Links Country Club, where she will also compete in the NYS Women’s Amateur.

Criscone’s ball-striking talents are obvious, but the intangibles like dedication and desire are just as important.

“I practice every single day, if I can. Sometimes the weather gets in the way, but I always look forward to working on my game,” she said. “Sometimes, I play nine or 18 holes if I need to get ready for a tournament.”

Criscone originally learned the game from her father, Craig, who took her with him to the driving range at Van Patten Golf Club when she was “very little.” She took her first official lessons from multiple NENY PGA Teacher of the Year Anders Mattson, worked with new Burden Lake CC head pro Justin Hearley this winter and is now taking lessons from both owner Scott Battiste and Director of Golf Scott Berliner at Eagle Crest Golf Club. She’s had some of the best instruction the Capital Region can offer.

She recently received a new Callaway driver, which she loves.

“My driver is the best part of my game, and my putter has gotten better recently. I love my Odyssey putter. I would say that chipping is not my strong suit, and that’s what I’m spending a lot of my time on now,” Criscone said.

Criscone’s career-best round is a 67, which she’s accomplished twice, and she carded a 69 three times last summer.

She works just as hard in the classroom, taking an honors math course to go along with a physics class and a photography class. She plans on taking anatomy next year and hopes to study forensics in college.

“I hope to play college golf. That’s my priority. I’m not sure after that,” Criscone said. She’s been looking at possible college choices already, and a few places have reached out to her.

Keep an eye on this young standout. The Capital Region produces more than its share of golf standouts in the mode of LPGA stars Dottie Pepper and Laura Diaz, and more recently her Albany Academy teammate Kennedy Swedick.

COLLEGE UPDATE

The UAlbany women’s golf team closed out the season with a second-place finish at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships, hosted by Disney’s Magnolia Course in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Great Danes shot a 908 (plus-44) over 54 holes and led through the first two rounds.

Claudia Blochliger finished third individually at 4-over-par and was named the MAAC’s Freshman of the Year. Mariel Tee was fourth (8-over-par), and Madison Walker shot 15-over-par to finish 10th. Tee and Walker joined Blochliger on the All-MAAC team.

The Siena men’s golf team also finished second, paced by junior Matthew Ferrari, who was seventh individually at 4-over-par. Juniors Nolan Crowley, from Saratoga Springs, and Jack Tobin, tied for 11th at plus-5.

The Siena women were eighth and were paced by freshman Manoela Barcellos in 12th place with a 19-over-par 235.

Senior Ashley Harding tied the program’s two-day scoring record with a 157 to lead the Union College women’s team to a whopping 96-stroke victory at the William Smith Invitational last weekend at Clifton Springs Country Club. The Liberty League Championships are being held this weekend at Turning Stone Resort in Verona.

CHIP SHOTS

The first major tournament of the season for local amateur men tees off Friday with the opening round of the Tri-County Match Play Championship at Colonie Golf & Country Club. Friday will be a qualifier for both the open and senior division. Match play begins Saturday in both divisions and continues with the semifinals in each division Sunday morning and the finals in the afternoon.

Hearley won the first NENY PGA Pro Classic of the season Monday at Saratoga Golf & Polo Club. Hearley eagled the last hole to win by one shot over Ian Breen of Saranac Inn G&CC, Berliner and Thomas Sennett of the CC of Pittsfield, avoiding a four-way playoff. It was an even sweeter victory after he had some of his money stolen from his car over the weekend. John Durcan won a playoff over Kirk Armstrong to win the Legends Division.

David Duval, whose father and grandfather were Schenectady natives, will be the featured player in the inaugural Charity Skins Game Tournament to benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Schenectady Aug. 16 at Mohawk Golf Club. Homestead Funding will be the hall of fame sponsor. The former No. 1-ranked player in the world, Duval won the Open Championship and the Players Championship among his 13 PGA Tour wins. Blaine McCallister, who has five PGA Tour victories and has been very familiar to local golf fans as a longtime contestant in the former Ellis Hospital Capital District Skins Game, will be the tournament host. Contact Joel Slutsky (518-376-9909) for more information.

The 29th annual Great Dane Athletic Club Golf Classic will be held June 9 at noon at Wolferts Roost Country Club. For more information, contact Justin Brown at 518-437-4774 or [email protected]

Wolferts Roost Country Club is hosting a qualifier for the Notah Begay III Junior Golf Championship May 15. The qualifier will include four divisions and will be taped for broadcast on The Golf Channel.

Former LPGA standout and current CBS reporter Dottie Pepper will be the honorary chair for the second annual Soroptimist of Saratoga County’s Spring Fever Golf Tournament at Saratoga National Golf Course May 18. Entry fee is $250 and includes golf, light breakfast, boxed lunch, dinner, golf cart, access to the driving range, raffles and prizes. The mission of SISC is to provide women and girls with access to achieve economic empowerment. Pepper won 17 LPGA tournaments, including two majors. She was inducted into the NYS Golf Association Hall of Fame in 2018 and is the author of “Letters to a Future Champion: My Time with Mr. Pulver.” For more information, visit www.soroptimistsaratoga.org/springfever or contact the Spring Fever committee at [email protected].

Fox Run Golf Club is the host for the seventh annual Greater Johnstown Lions Club Golf Tournament May 21 with a 9:30 a.m. shotgun start for the scramble event. Entry fee is $125 if received by May 6 or $145 the day of the tournament. The entry fee includes golf, lunch, cart, dinner and prizes. Call Colleen Ioele-DeCristofaro (518-281-4467) for more information.

The NYSGA Amateur Series kicks off Thursday at Turning Stone Resort’s Kaluhyat Golf Club — site of the 2015 NYS Men’s Amateur — in Verona.

The 16th annual Fred “Snake” Blake Fundraiser Golf Outing in support of Vivian White will be held May 14 at 9 a.m. at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. Entry fee is $125 per person or $500 per team. For reservations or to make a donation, contact Karrie Blake or Tina Blake.

HOLES-IN-ONE

Fred Kokosa aced the 17th hole with a 9-iron for his second career hole-in-one at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

At Airway Meadows Golf Club, Dan Ryan posted a hole-in-one (also an albatross) on the par-4, 292-yard fourth hole with his driver.

Dean Lagace of Cohoes used a 9-iron for his hole-in-one on the 110-yard seventh hole at Briar Creek Golf Course.

EAGLES

John Urkevich eagled the par-4 16th hole with a driver and a wedge at Mechanicville Golf Club.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

Categories: Clifton Park and Halfmoon, Sports

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