Shenendehowa High School senior DJ Tozier already has a college scholarship lined up for next season, but Monday’s performance at the U.S. Open Local Qualifier would have made a fine addition to his college resume.
Tozier, who will play for Division II Columbus State next fall, fired a one-under-par 71 to grab one of five local qualifying berths at McGregor Links Country Club.
Two other players with local ties also clinched berths. Stuart Drahota, a former Skidmore College standout who was the Thoroughbreds’ interim head coach last season, matched Tozier’s 71, while Siena College graduate and Mohawk Golf Club member Jim Gifford carded a 72 and then parred the first extra hole to win a five-player playoff for one of two remaining spots.
Earning the other two qualifying berths were 31-year-old Garren Poirier, a self-employed photographer out of Green Mountain National Golf Club, who earned medalist honors with a 70, and Canadian Dave Levesque, who, like Gifford, shot a 72 and then parred the first extra hole to secure his spot.
Glenn Davis, the head pro at Albany Country Club, shot a 72 and will be the first alternate, while professional Brian Albertazzi, from Killington, Vt., also shot a 72 and will be the second alternate.
“I felt comfortable today,” said Tozier. “I like this course, and I’m surprised it wasn’t as wet as I thought it would be. I wasn’t nervous at all. While I was driving back from Cooperstown [after competing in the New York State Junior PGA Championship over the weekend], I was thinking about the different holes out here. The last time I played here was in the New York State Junior Amateur last summer, and I didn’t play that well. I wasn’t looking to shoot a specific score today. I was just trying to play as well as I could.”
When Tozier arrived at McGregor, it was raining steadily, but the rain gradually slowed and didn’t affect play for most of the field.
“When it rains, sometimes it brings your demeanor down a little bit, but I didn’t have to wear my rain gloves or change clothes at all,” said Tozier. “We just played five or six holes in the sprinkles.”
Tozier, 18, was playing in his first U.S. Open Local Qualifier. Although he made four bogeys, he neutralized them with birdies on the second, fourth and 13th holes, as well as an eagle on the par-5 eighth hole. He hit a 4-iron from 205 yards and then made the 10-foot putt.
Tozier’s coach at Columbus State next year will be Mark Immelman, the brother of current PGA Tour member Trevor Immelman.
Drahota, 26, is a 2007 Skidmore graduate who took over the coaching duties for a short time last year after Dave Bakyta stepped down.
“I did it just to help them out,” he said. “I live in Orlando now. I turned professional in 2008, and I was Dave’s assistant for a while, so I took over the job on an interim basis just to help out the guys and the program.”
Drahota flew in a few days ago to get his game in gear.
“I was grinding and hitting all the shots here in practice,” he said.
Drahota, who is competing on the Florida mini tours, birdied the fifth, 16th and 18th holes. He also eagled the eighth hole.
Gifford, playing in the final group of the day, had the most dramatic finish among the local contingent. The 25-year-old accountant will be making his second appearance in the U.S. Open sectionals, but he had to work very hard to do it.
He finished strong with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes and nearly birdied the 18th hole. In the playoff, he used the same 6-iron that he used in regulation and came up just short of the green. But he chipped to within a foot and made the tap-in par to qualify for the next round at Canoe Brook Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., on June 4.
“I’m very relieved,” he said. “It feels good to be going back to the sectionals. The last time I went there was three or four years ago. I think I shot an 80. I was a little nervous and a lot younger at the time. It was the year that Michelle Wie was playing there in the sectionals, and there was a lot of press there.
“But I’m looking forward to playing with all the big names.”
With his father, Mike, on his bag, Gifford rolled in three birdies and made three bogeys.
“I didn’t miss a green on the front side,” he said. “I was playing well, but I had to make a late charge to get in.”
Gifford teamed up with his father to win the Stadium Classic recently, and was also the qualifying medalist last weekend in the Tri-County Match Play Championship. He is a two-time Saratoga County Amateur champion.
Poirier, a Temple graduate who competed in the U.S. Amateur a year ago and has taken part in five or six USGA championships over the years, said he felt great all day, even though this was his first event of the season.
Levesque, 38, is a member of the Canadian PGA and is a former player of the year in his section. He bounced back from a quadruple-
bogey 8 on the 17th hole to eventually earn the last qualifying spot in the playoff.
Davis, a 45-year-old Syracuse University graduate and longtime local club professional, will try to make his fourth appearance in U.S. Open sectional play if he gets a call as the first alternate. The highlight of his round was an eagle on the eighth hole.
Qualifiers — Gerren Poirier (Green Mountain National) 70, DJ Tozier (Western Turnpike) 71, Stuart Drahota (Orlando, Fla.) 71, x-Jim Gifford (Mohawk GC) 72, x-Dave Levesque (Canada) 72.
Alternates — Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 72, Brian Albertazzi (Killington, Vt.) 72.
Other top scores — Vincent Dumouchel (Canada) 72, Louis-Pierre Godin (Canada) 73, Chris Sanger (Red Hook) 73, Casey Komline (Dorset Field Club) 73, Brian Hopkins (St. Johnsbury CC) 73, Dan Russo (Rolling Hills at Antlers) 73, Jim Welch (Olde Kinderhook) 73, Dennis Gosier (McGregor Links CC) 73, Scott Berliner (Normanside CC) 73, Ian Breen (Colonie G&CC) 73, Ben Sequeira (Saratoga Springs) 74, Victor Fox (Normanside CC) 74, Jean-Sebastien Legare (Canada) 74, Marc Hurtubise (Canada) 74, Andy Rathbun (Commonground GC) 75, Scott Battiste (Rexford) 75, Noah Norton (Caughnawaga) 75, Dave Bakyta (Saratoga Springs) 75, Mike Stackus (CC of Vemont) 75, Chad Stoffer (Schenectady Municipal) 75, Vincent Blanchette (Pinegrove CC) 75, Paul Jaycox (Cobleskill G&CC) 75, Brendan Lemp (Misquamicut Club) 76, Hervious Clement (Canada) 76, Yanik Laforest (Canada) 76, Taylor Walsh (Naponoch) 76, Kim Perry (Links at Lang Farm) 76, Brennan McHugh (Lake Clear) 77, Jocelyn Falardeau (Canada) 77, David Huestis (McGregor Links CC) 77, Bryan Bigley (Rotterdam) 77, Ron Philo Jr. (Stowe Mountain Club) 78, Jess Esposito (Newman GC) 79, Steve Hoffman (Shaker Ridge CC) 79, Daniel Winters (Wolferts Roost CC) 79, Brendan Jeffes (Schenectady) 79.
x-won spot in playoff.