Down the Fairway: Quillinan comfortably wins Tri-County Match Championship

Steve Quillinan Jr. and his dog Larry pose during the final round of the Tri-County Match Play Championship last Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club. The Great Dane followed the action for much of the back nine as Quillinan won his fourth title.
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Steve Quillinan Jr. and his dog Larry pose during the final round of the Tri-County Match Play Championship last Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club. The Great Dane followed the action for much of the back nine as Quillinan won his fourth title.

Steve Quillinan Jr. had an extremely unusual fan following him during the final round of the annual Tri-County Match Play Championship last Sunday at Colonie Golf & Country Club. It’s not often you see a four-legged pet on the golf course, and this one was hard to miss.

With his mother walking his dark black, 1 1/2-year-old Great Dane named Larry, Quillinan stopped his driving cart often to pet the very friendly canine. The big puppy obviously gave the former CC of Troy standout plenty of motivation, as he earned his fourth Match Play crown with a 3 & 2 triumph over event newcomer Connor Abess.

The huge, friendly dog wasn’t the only reason Quillinan appeared to be so comfortable during the round. He’s played Colonie G&CC very often over the years, and his course knowledge was evident.

“Although I still live in Boston, I come back here often to play,” said Quillinan. “I’ve been playing a good amount in Boston, and I also just got back from playing golf with my dad in Florida, so I’ve been getting my rounds in. I come back here often. Peter [Spitalny, the course co-owner] is a close family friend, and I like to support his event. I love playing in it because there is so much golf over a short period of time. It gets me off to a good start, and I can get my rhythm.

“I love match play. It’s a lot of fun. I played here in high school, and I still play all the time with the Spitalnys. I feel really comfortable here, and when I’m hitting the ball this well, I’m even more comfortable.”

Quillinan, a former Troy Invitational and Rensselaer County Men’s Amateur titlist, took a 1-up lead with a par on the second hole. He rolled in a 65-foot eagle putt to go 2-up on the third hole after Abess birdied the hole, but Abess, a Glens Falls CC member, cut Quillinan’s lead to 1-up with a par on the fourth hole. An excellent up-and-down par on the par-3 seventh helped Abess even the match, and he took a 1-up advantage with another soft pitch shot par-save on No. 9.

But the back nine belonged to Quillinan. A 340-yard tee shot on the 10th hole set up a 50-yard pitch and subsequent par to even the match. He rolled in a two-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole and two-putted for par from 45 feet on the par-3 12th to grab a 3-up advantage.

Another Abess up-and-down par cut his deficit back to two holes, but Quillinan eventually earned a par on the 16th hole to wrap up the match.

“I hit the ball well today. I made some key putts, and it was nice to play in some sunshine for a change,” Quillinan said.

Meanwhile, Abess was making his first appearance in a Capital Region major tournament. The 28-year-old Glens Falls High School and Le Moyne graduate is a project manager for BBL Construction. He’s a perennial top-5 finisher in the Glens Falls CC club championship. In high school, he won the Foothills Council title as well as a sectional championship.

“I came to play here because I was just trying to expand my game more and play some more tournaments,” he said. “I would say my ball-striking is probably my best attribute. I hit some good wedges to get up-and-down, but I didn’t putt that well today. I hit it pretty good off the tee, but I wasn’t keeping up with Steve at all today.”

In the senior division, two-time Schenectady Classic winner Bob Cooper defeated eight-time Schenectady Classic winner Jim Mueller 1-up for his sixth Tri-County Match Play senior crown. He recorded five birdies in the championship match but was more excited about how he won his semifinal match with Tim Flanagan. He holed out for an eagle-2 from 88 yards with a sand wedge.

RETURN TO THE TOP

New Eagle Crest Golf Club Director of Instruction Scott Berliner repeated an old story line Wednesday, when he returned as the king of the hill in the Northeastern New York PGA’s premier event.

Berliner, a 47-year-old Lake Luzerne native and the section’s all-time leader in major tournament victories, won his 11th NENY PGA Stroke Play Championship in the last 12 years by shooting a 7-under-par 137 over two rounds at Saratoga National Golf Club. Berliner held off last year’s champion, Eric Mabee of the CC of Pittsfield, by five shots with a 5-under-par 67 in the final round, including a 4-under 32 on the back side with an eagle and three birdies.

Berliner had won 10 straight NENY PGA Championships until Mabee snapped that noteworthy streak last year. Berliner has won the section’s Player of the Year Award 11 times, with 59 victories and close to $100,000 in career earnings, according to NENY PGA records. He admits that he didn’t keep track of his victories early in his career.

He’s worked at numerous courses in the area, including Saratoga Spa Golf Course, Hiland Golf Club, McGregor Links CC, Normanside CC, Shaker Ridge CC and Cobleskill G&CC. He continues to be head coach Tom Oppedisano’s assistant on the Skidmore College golf team.

Berliner has now recorded 29 NENY PGA majors, with 11 Stroke Play Championships, nine Donald Ross Classic titles, six Professional Championship victories and three Match Play crowns. But he has also earned two Champions’ Cup triumphs, seven Vardon Stroke Average titles and 13 Assistant Player of the Year Awards.

“When I went to the 10th tee [Wednesday], I saw Chris Sanger making a move on the digital scoreboard. Justin Hearley was hovering, and Eric was playing very well. I just kept telling myself to stay patient. I knew I was hitting it good,” he said. “Eric and I were tied at the turn, but I birdied the 10th hole, had a sloppy bogey on the 11th and a good par on the 12th.

“I think the turning point for me was on the 13th hole. I made an eagle. Eric had honors and played for position with either a 5-wood or a 3-wood. I was going to play safe with a 2-iron, but then I changed my mind. I wanted to play smart, but I didn’t want to play scared. That’s not me.”

After finding the fairway with a 3-wood instead of his 2-iron, he then pulled out that 2-iron for his second shot on the par-5, striping it to just four feet to set up the eagle.

“Hitting that tee shot so well freed me up for the next 4-5 holes,” Berliner said.

Berliner’s emotions caught up to him on the 17th hole, when he began thinking that this will be the first major title he can’t discuss with his mother, who passed away in February.

“I got choked up a little bit,” he said.

Berliner, who currently lives in Queensbury, feels vindicated that he’s able to win his section’s top event once again.

“This feels great. I definitely thought about this tournament for the last year. Winning the same event 10 years in a row at eight different courses is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. At some point, you aren’t going to have a good day, or someone else is going to play better,” he said. “I’m glad to win it again, and have 11 titles in 12 years. Maybe I can try to hold on to it for a few more years. Every year it gets harder and harder. My body gets questionable with aches and pains that linger longer.

“But I take pride in how much I practice and work on my game. I block off a couple of hours every day for practice. Fortunately, I have the ability to do that. Most pros don’t. But I realize that you only can accomplish [great things] when you put the time and effort into it.”

U.S. OPEN LOCAL QUALIFIER MONDAY

Shaker Ridge CC hosts the U.S. Open Local Qualifier Monday, which is the first step in competing for the 122nd U.S. Open Championship that will be played June 16-19 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts. There will be five qualifying spots and two alternate positions available from the 80-player field. Those qualifiers will advance to regional competition in hope of earning a spot in the U.S. Open itself.

Notable competitors include Berliner, Hearley, Sanger and perennial qualifier Bryan Bigley among the pros, as well as top amateurs like Jim Welch of Winding Brook CC, Joe Quijano of the CC of Troy, Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club, Clarkie Carroll of Wilton, Tom McGinn of Saratoga Springs, Joey Harrigan of RPI, who recently competed in the NCAA Division III Championships, Shaker Ridge assistant course superintendent Todd Czepiel of Duanesburg, Travis Koch of Glenville and former Schenectady Classic winner Aaron Simone of Niskayuna.

Bigley, a former mini-tour player, including a couple of seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour, has qualified for regional competition nine times, including a year ago. The Schalmont High School and Siena College graduate is now 37. He earned $252,686 as a touring pro from 2008-2019 and appeared in two PGA Tour events. The son of longtime Pinehaven CC course superintendent Rob Bigley was a two-time Schenectady Classic winner as well as a former MAAC Player of theYear at Siena and a CRAGA Stroke Play champ as an amateur.

CHIP SHOTS

AJ Cavotta, a former Saratoga Springs High School standout now competing for Southern New Hampshire University, will be teeing it up in the NCAA Golf Championships Monday through Wednesday at TPC Michigan.

RPI’s Harrigan was chosen the Liberty League’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. He missed the cut by just one stroke at the NCAA Division III Championships this week.

The annual Challenge Cup between the club pros from the NENY PGA and the amateurs from the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association is set for May 24 at the Country Club of Troy. The CRAGA team is comprised of 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. Twelve players from each team will compete in both individual and team match play. The event begins at 9 a.m.

The second annual 9 & Dine Golf Scramble, to benefit To Love a Child, Inc., will be held July 22 at Fairways of Halfmoon Golf Club. There will be registration at 3:15 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. shotgun start. Entry fee is $85 and includes nine holes of golf with cart, prizes, an Italian buffet dinner and a cocktail hour. There also will be a themed basket auction and a 50/50 raffle. For more information, contact To Love a Child, P.O. Box 165, Clifton Park, NY 12065, or call 518-859-4424. Proceeds will benefit Food Forests & Clean Water in Zimbabwe and Thyme to Thrive Educational Programs in the Capital Region.

Schenectady Municipal Golf Course is the site for the Schenectady High School Football Golf Tournament July 9 at 9 a.m. Entry fee is $135 and includes golf, cart, Continental breakfast, hot dogs/hamburgers/refreshments at the turn, dinner, a golf towel, T-shirt and golf divot/marker tool. Contact Schenectady High head coach Carmen DePoalo at 518-495-6555 for more information.

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 Wednesday. 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 Saturday 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.

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

Dan Lovell used an 8-iron for his hole-in-one on the third hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

At Van Patten Golf Club, Will Fizgerald aced the 135-yard 15th hole with a 9-iron.

EAGLES

John Wozniak posted an eagle-2 on the 335-yard par-4 third hole on the blue nine while competing for the Cappy’s Body Works league at Town of Colonie Golf Course.

At Mechanicville Golf Club, Clyde Drigger had an eagle-2 on the 385-yard par-4 14th hole.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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