SCHENECTADY — Jim Mueller didn’t realize it at the time, but he pulled off an historic victory Friday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Mueller’s second straight 4-under-par 68 helped him hold off longtime rival Paul Pratico by two shots to win an unprecedented sixth Schenectady Senior Classic crown. Entering this event for players age 50 and older, he was tied with the late Bill Moll and Neil Golub with five senior trophies apiece. Mueller and Pratico share the record for the most regular Schenectady Classic wins with eight apiece. Pratico has four Schenectady Senior Classic titles.
“That’s pretty cool,” Mueller said when told of his record performance. “I thought I only had five senior wins.”
The rivalry between Mueller and Pratico has been phenomenal over the last several decades. It’s rare when both players aren’t in the top five for any major tournament hosted by Schenectady Muni, and the tandem owns too many runner-up finishes to count.
“Playing with these two guys [Pratico and former champion Tom Salmon], I knew where I stood,” Mueller said. “I didn’t know what was going on in front of us, but I knew that Paul and Tom would have to shoot a low number to beat me. My goal was a 67, so Paul would have to shoot a 66 to beat me and Tom would have to shoot a 65. I figured if I at least kept it in the 68-69 range they would have to go really low.”
Mueller collected birdies on the second, third, seventh, ninth and 14th holes. Once again, he failed to birdie the other two par-5s, Nos. 12 and 16. Although he reached both greens in two, he three-putted each.
“I pulled my irons all day,” Mueller lamented. “I had good distance on them, but I left myself a lot of 15-footers. My first putt on 12 was probably my worst putt of the day, and I also three-putted on 16. But I hit my driver good, and I hit a lot of greens in regulation, just not at the pin.”
Mueller showed off his impressive short game with key up-and-down pars on the 10th and 15th holes.
“I shanked my second shot on No. 10, but somehow, I got up and down for par,” Mueller said with a grin. “On No. 15, I made my best chip of the day. I think the best part of my game is chipping. I’m not normal with the way I chip, but it works for me. I grew up at Ballston Spa CC, and I never hit any greens there when I was a youngster. With all the undulations and tough lies over there, it made me a good chipper. People always say I’m a good putter, but it’s actually the fact that I’m a pretty good chipper and most of the time can leave myself a 2- or 3-foot putt.”
“I was pretty solid both days, and I thought the course was fabulous considering the drought,” Mueller added. “I enjoyed playing with Paul and Tom. I knew playing with those guys that I would have to earn it.”
At one point, Pratico trailed Mueller by three strokes, but he made things interesting with a birdie on the 16th hole. He then came up just short on a birdie try on the par-3 17th hole.
“If that putt on 17 fell, maybe I would have had something going,” Pratico said. “But I played solid, and I can’t complain. I just had the one miscue with one bogey today, and I conquered the par-5s, making birdies on four of them. But that’s all I got. It was a different game for me today. You can two-putt these greens pretty easily, but nobody made a lot of one-putts. It was hard to keep them on-line for some reason.”
Defending champion Lucas Sirois shot a 68 and finished in third with a two-day total of 4-under-par 140. Salmon finished fourth with a 72-142, Bob Guezlow was fifth (68-143) and Bob Cooper shot a 69 for even-par 144 in sixth.
In the super senior division for players age 70 and older, first-round leader Neil Chambers shot a 76 for 145 total to beat Johnny Bobo (77-150) by five strokes.
“I three-putted four times, but I hit a few good shots toward the end, which were just enough,” Chambers said. “I birdied the second and 12th holes. I try to focus on one shot at a time. I’m a bridge player, and you focus on the next shot, just like you focus on the next hand.”
Jim Mueller 68-136, Paul Pratico 69-138, Lucas Sirois 68-140, Tom Salmon 72-142, Bob Guezlow 68-143, Bob Cooper 69-144, Bill Paulsen 71-145, Paul Hart 74-146, Dan Conway 73-147, Mike Drake 73-147, Jay Taub 75-148, Mike Carroll 78-150, Jim McKillip 73-151, Dave Smith 78-152, Paul Toth 75-153, John Mendrysa 77-155, Chris Fatone 83-156, Steve Bass 80-156, Ron Cohen 80-157, Richard Sniffen 82-158, Walt Peretti 75-153.
SUPER SENIOR DIVISON
Neil Chambers 76-145, Johnny Bobo 77-150, Tim Ward 75-151, Tom Higgins 76-152, Ron Anzalone 77-156, Dave Hwaszcz 78-158, Richard Lackey 80-158, Gary Reynolds 82-162, Joe Lazzari 82-162, Bill Welch 86-166, Woody Winslow DQ.