Down the Fairway: Burden Lake Country Club head pro Hearley is off to great start

New Burden Lake CC head pro Justin Hearley won both NENY PGA Classic events so far with the help of clutch eagles. (Photo provided)

New Burden Lake CC head pro Justin Hearley won both NENY PGA Classic events so far with the help of clutch eagles. (Photo provided)

Justin Hearley always has a meticulous plan for success.

The 5-foot-8, 150-pound dynamic golf pro is extremely goal-oriented, so much so that he writes down his aspirations before every season and keeps checking his performance status throughout the year. Motivated by his young family – wife Maria Rose and son Caiden — Hearley is not only excelling in his first head pro job at Burden Lake Country Club, but he’s also off to the best start of his career on the Northeastern New York PGA tour.

The 32-year-old graduate of CBA and SUNY Delhi’s golf management program worked at Normanside CC from 2009 through last season, first as an intern and then as an assistant pro. He turned professional in 2012 and has been one of the top players from the section’s assistants association ranks ever since. Overall, he’s won 25 times, with 11 seconds and 14 third-place finishes in 112 events, earning $49,012.

A year ago, Hearley was battling for NENY PGA Player of the Year honors, eventually finishing third in the points chase after collecting two victories, one runner-up finish and two thirds among his 10 top-10 finishes.

The start to the 2022 campaign has been nothing short of magnificent. In the first Pro Classic of the season at Saratoga Golf & Polo Club, Hearley made up for having quite a bit of cash and some credit cards stolen from his car the previous weekend by rallying to victory with an eagle on the final par-5 hole. He hit a 6-iron from 187 yards out to four feet and made the clinching putt.

Then, last Monday at Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston, he used another eagle — this time holing out from 150 yards on a par-4 — to win by two strokes.

“The tournament at Saratoga Golf & Polo Club was special, because I had collected myself after a bad break,” Hearley said. “I was 1-under-par through 14 holes. Although I wasn’t on cruise control, I was playing pretty well. But I made a bogey on the 15th hole after hitting my tee shot to the left – something I had been avoiding. We couldn’t find the ball. Ken Handy was there helping to officiate the tournament, and he couldn’t find the ball. But he told me I could overcome this bad break, and that’s what I did with that eagle on the final hole.”

Hearley’s overall playing skills over the last few years have been excellent, but he’s been working on his mental game.

“I would say I have a better attitude this year,” he said. “I’m not letting a bad shot or two wear me down. In years past, I would dwell on them.”

Although he’s solid with every club in the bag, Hearley said the strength of his game is probably off the tee.

“I’ve been a fairly good ball-striker off the tee. I’m not super long, but I hit it about 280 yards, and that’s pretty good pound-for-pound. Plus, I’m getting more birdies on par-3s this year. I’ve also been making better decisions on the course. I’m always trying to decide if there is more reward than risk with a tough shot,” he said.

Hearley is hoping his momentum will carry over to this week’s NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship Tuesday and Wednesday at Saratoga National Golf Club.

“The Stroke Play Championship has always favored those players who make their way down south and practice off real grass,” he said. “But obviously, I’m very happy with where I’m at right now. A goal of mine is to win a major event in our section. I write down my goals before every season. I’ve got a couple of my goals checked off so far. With all the practicing I’ve done on the simulators here at Burden Lake, my swing is in a real groove right now.”

Scott Berliner, now the Director of Instruction at Eagle Crest Golf Club, has been the king of the hill in majors — and all section tournaments for that matter — for the last two decades. Hearley knows that winning a major like the Stroke Play Championship will most likely mean going through Berliner.

“It’s good to have beaten someone of Scott’s talent once or twice,” Hearley said. “Obviously, Scott is the alpha male in the pack. Everybody is trying to chase him down. It’s been refreshing to have him shake my hand and congratulate me instead of the other way around this year.”

Off the course, Hearley is flourishing in his new role as head professional – the fulfillment of another one of his lifetime goals.

“Everything is going great,” he said. “We opened up on March 31. I’m not sure if everyone realizes that we are open to the public on top of our memberships. Things are going pretty good for us. I started the year working on our simulators, and I’ve been teaching a boat load of people. I’ve had almost 100 lessons already. I didn’t do 100 lessons all of last season.

“This new job at Burden Lake has given me the opportunity to expand my teaching more and make more of an impact on the game. I want to be the guy people come to when they’ve only got 15 minutes to spare but need help with their game. I’m pretty sure you can find 15 minutes. That’s something new I’m going to concentrate on this year after another pro in our section said he’s having tremendous success with short lessons like that.”

Hearley played soccer, baseball and basketball as a youngster, and he bowled and played tennis in high school.

“I was the king of the non-contact sports,” he said with a laugh. “My height was a factor in trying to play the other sports, but I fell in love with golf at age 14.”

Meanwhile, Hearley is also an outstanding bowler, with six perfect games and three 800 triples, including a high triple of 820. He finished with a 233 average this season. That’s definitely rare for a club pro golfer.

“I missed quite a few games this year because of my schedule, but I only had two games under 200 this year. I had a really steady year on the lanes after Anthony Scaccia drilled up some good balls for me,” he said.

Hearley takes after his father, Bill, who like Justin plays golf right-handed and bowls left-handed. By the way, Bill Hearley owns 44 perfect games and 32 800 triples, so Justin won’t be catching him any time soon on the lanes. Family bragging rights remain on the links for Justin.

BERLINER LOOMS

Berliner is still the player to beat in the NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship. The 11-time NENY PGA Player of the Year won a remarkable 10 consecutive Stroke Play titles until Eric Mabee of the CC of Pittsfield beat him a year ago.

Berliner is the all-time major champion for this section with nine Donald Ross Classic titles, six Professional Championships and three Match Play crowns. He won the section’s Vardon Stroke Average title seven times, was a NENY PGA Champions Cup winner twice and also won 13 Assistant Player of the Year awards.

Berliner owns three wins on the Florida Pro Golf Tour, three wins on the West Florida Golf Tour and one each on the Minorleague Golf Tour and the Western States Golf Tour. He’s competed in five Professional National Championships and seven PGA National Assistants Championships.

The Lake Luzerne native has worked at numerous local clubs, including Saratoga Spa Golf Course, Hiland Golf Club, McGregor Links CC, Normanside CC and Cobleskill G&CC, as well as helping out head coach Tom Oppedisano on the Skidmore golf team.

Berliner’s continued excellence in a game marked by more failure than success is quite a story, but sooner or later there will be another king of the hill among the local club pros. It will be interesting to see when that happens, but Berliner should still be a force, no matter what club he’s working at.

As Director of Instruction at Eagle Crest, Berliner will have plenty of flexibility as a teacher, club fitter and player.

STRONG JUNIOR EVENT

The Notah Begay III Junior Golf National Championship will have a local qualifier May 15 at Wolferts Roost Country Club. Competition will be provided in the boys’ 16-18, boys’ 14-15, boys’ 12-13, boys’ 10-11, girls’ 16-18, girls’ 14-15, girls’ 12-13 and girls’ 10-11 age divisions. The event will be taped and broadcast on Golf Channel.

The boys’ 16-18 division is already full with 12 competitors, including Diego Clark of Glenmont, Connor Desjardins of Niskayuna, Joshua Durocher of Troy, Tanner Fearman of Queensbury, Benjamin Fox of Saugerties, Jack Hoblock of Loudonville, Christian Lasch of Loudonville, Jack Leonard of Delmar, Vinny Liguori of Rexford, Chadwick Maurer of Schenectady, Luke Morgenstein of Schoharie, John Purificato of Troy, Travis Taylor East Greenbush and Brady Tremblay of Lake Placid.

Shea Hildenbrandt of Niskayuna is entered in the girls’ 16-18 age division, while Jillian Rawson of Slingerlands and Samantha VonRohr are entered so far in the girls’ 14-15 age division.

Section II champion Kennedy Swedick is the tournament host and has an exemption to this qualifier. Registration is midnight tonight. Cost is $129. For more information, contact Dan Crowther at [email protected].

CHIP SHOTS

May is an extremely busy month for major events. The Tri-County Match Play Championship for amateur men winds up today at Colonie G&CC, the NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship is set for Tuesday and Wednesday at Saratoga National Golf Club, the U.S. Open Local Qualifier will be held May 16 at Shaker Ridge CC and the annual Challenge Cup between the club pros from the NENY PGA and the amateurs from the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association square off May 24 at the Country Club of Troy.

Speaking of the Challenge Cup, the CRAGA team so far has confirmed Tom McGinn, AJ Cavotta, Dan Russo, Paul Pratico, Ryan Davis, Joe Fitzsimmons, Nick Lyons, Lance Hope, Nolan Crowley, Clint Lange, Jason Urschel and Ben Rublee on its roster. Twelve players from each team will compete in both individual and team match play. The event begins at 9 a.m.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute senior Joey Harrigan, from Highland Park, Illinois, will be competing in the NCAA Division III Men’s Golf Championship Tuesday through Thursday at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida. Harrigan is the first RPI golfer to compete as an individual and will be one of six individuals playing without their teams.

Briar Creek Golf Course hosts the Michelob Light Tournament Friday. There will be a Continental breakfast at 8 a.m., followed by a shotgun start at 9 a.m. Entry fee of $75 includes golf, cart, lunch at the turn and a grill buffet after golf. The top five foursomes will receive prizes. Call 518-355-6145 for reservations.

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.

Also entered in the four-person skins format will be two other familiar names to golf fans. Darren Clarke has won 21 tournaments worldwide, including the 2011 Open Championship. He was a five-time player and the 2016 captain for the European Ryder Cup team. Fred Funk won eight times on the PGA Tour, including the Players Championship, and he’s also won nine times on the Champions Tour. He was a member of the 2003 and 2005 Presidents Cup Team as well as the 2004 Ryder Cup team for the U.S. 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].

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 16th annual Fred “Snake” Blake Fundraiser Golf Outing in support of Vivian White will be held Saturday 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.

Airway Meadows hosts the 17th annual Wilton Rotary Golf Classic June 18. Entry fee is $100 and includes golf, a light lunch and dinner. The format will be a four-person scramble at noon. Special events during the tournament include a chipping contest, a putting challenge and a cornhole competition. Contact Don Wildermuth (518-430-8670) for more information.

The 31st annual ALS Memorial Open will be held June 22 at Van Patten Golf Course. The format will be a scramble, starting at 11 a.m. Proceeds will benefit St. Peter’s ALS Regional Center. The event has raised $2.3 million so far.  Entry fee is $760 per foursome and includes golf, cart, range balls, a grab and go lunch, a 19th hole reception and dinner. There will be a 10:30 a.m. shotgun start. There are also numerous sponsorship opportunities. You can register at www.alsmemorialopen.org or contact Scott Daly (518-339-0491) or Steve Michaels (518-772-9489).

HOLES-IN-ONE

Pete Collison used a 5-iron to ace the sixth hole while competing in the Welded Products league at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

Also at Schenectady Municipal, Bill Marincic hit a 9-iron on the third hole for his hole-in-one.

At Stadium Golf Club, Pat Gerstenberger holed out with a 9-wood on the 180-yard 12th hole.

EAGLES

Tom Keeler eagled the ninth hole at Schenectady Muny.

In the 300 Golf League at Eagle Crest Golf Club, Tim Lewandowski eagled the par-4 first hole, and Mike Smith eagled the par-5 18th hole.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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