Winning is still Jim Mueller’s ultimate goal, but the seven-time Gazette County Amateur champion won’t be anywhere near full strength when the annual scratch event tees off this morning at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.
Mueller, who has captured the last two County Am crowns, has been hobbling for more than a year with two sore knees. He plans to have both of them replaced next month, which will prematurely end his golf season.
With only a couple of local tournaments left before his surgery, the County Am becomes even more special. That’s why he never dreamed of missing it, despite the constant pain he’s been in.
“I’m not in top shape, but it won’t be an excuse,” said the third-shift postal employee. “It’s nice to be warmed up and playing a lot before you compete in this, but I’m the kind of guy who can play right out of the box. You’ve still got to get the ball in the hole, whether you’re swinging good or bad. That’s my goal, to get the ball in the hole.
“I’ll still have a good time, but I also expect a lot out of myself,” Mueller said. “I still want to play well, and my goal is still to win. I’ve only played a couple of times in the last few weeks. I haven’t played a lot.”
Mueller, who loves to walk, will have to ride a cart during all three rounds.
“I hate getting into a cart, but that’s the only way I can play right now,” he said.
Mueller admitted that he is nervous about the upcoming surgery, but he’s been assured by his doctors that his golf career isn’t over.
“I’m extremely nervous about it, but the doctors say I’ll be as good as new,” he said. “It really started to bother me back in December and January. If I knew it was going to hurt this much, I would have gotten the surgery done last fall.
“But it’s gotten to the point of no return now. I can’t sleep, and I can’t walk longer than a few steps here and there. I can’t mow the lawn, and it also affects my job. I can do almost everything for a short while, but then it starts to hurt really bad, and it affects my concentration.”
Mueller is the most successful champion in Gazette County Amateur history with his collection of championship trophies and numerous other runner-up and top-10 finishes, but he’s not the only champion in the field.
Paul Pratico, a former pro, has five County Am trophies and has also been a runner-up numerous times, along with top-10 finishes every time he tees it up.
Rob Bigley Jr., a teacher at Albany Academy, is one of the longest hitters in the field and has three County Amateur victories to his credit, along with Ed Chylinski, Bill Frutchy, Bill Moll and Mike Bayus. Bob Cooper, another former professional who at one time was the region’s longest hitter, is a two-time winner, while Tom Salmon, last week’s Haggerty Two-Man champ who now plays out of Mohawk Golf Club, also has a championship trophy on his resume. He’s also one of the hottest players in the region after teaming with Mike Wheeler to win two major partners events, the three-day Shaker Invitational and the Haggerty Two-Man last weekend at Schenectady Municipal.
“I’ve been playing pretty well lately,” said the 42-year-old Salmon. “Over the last couple of years, I’m driving the all pretty good, and if I can keep it straight, I’m fairly long, so it helps. I’m also a decent iron player and putter, but the key on this course is making birdies on the par-5s. Jim [Mueller] and Paul [Pratico] have cracked the code here, and they know how to make birdies on the par-5s. If you don’t birdie the par-5s, you are losing ground.”
There are also several former Gazette Senior County Amateur winners in the 86-player field, including Moll and Neil Golub, who have five senior crowns apiece, plus Tony Cristello and Mike Carroll.
Other top contenders include former Tri-County Match Play champion Chad Stoffer, Shaker Ridge Country Club assistant grounds superintendent Todd Czepiel, Brandon Haase of Mohawk Golf Club and Jerry Brescia of Eagle Crest.
Among the younger players in contention are Chris Barach, this year’s Tri-County Match Play winner, Mohawk Golf Club standout Ben Bates, Nick Longo and Seth Adams, who each have handicaps around scratch and solid resumes.
The top 40 and ties from today’s opening round advance to Saturday’s second round. Only the low 20 and ties will play in Sunday’s final round.
The tournament is open only to Schenectady County residents and past champions.
7:00 — Tony Cristello, Ben Bates, Matt Panneton, Brandon Haase.
7:10 — Jack Stopera, Greg Stopera, Glenn Stopera, Mike Mina.
7:20 — Bill Sweet, Jerry Brescia, Kenny Hall, Ryan Lynch
7:30 — Bruce Barach, Chris Barach, Seth Adams, Nick Longo.
7:40 — Andy Bennett, Dave Sutphen, Alex Olbrych, Jim Fazio.
7:50 — Frank DeGraw, Tim Lewandowski, Mike Drake, Harry Morgan.
8:00 — Mario Marino, Todd Trepess, Toby Harding, Dan Conway.
8:10 — Peter Davis, Craig Schoonmaker, Richard Florkiewicz, Randy Bird.
8:20 — Paul Burke, Mike Casey, Michael Martin, Mark Compton.
8:30 — Chris Pierpont, Grant Helmerci, Robert Alheim, Derrick Brown.
8:40 — Jim Mueller, Paul Pratico, Tom Salmon, Ed Chylinski.
8:50 — Bill Moll, Neil Golub, Mike Bayus.
9:00 — Starter’s time.
9:10 — Mike Carroll, Bill Frutchy, Bob Cooper, Lance Hope.
9:20 — Mike Lucey, Larry Edwards, Carl Gilbert, Chris Gilbert.
9:30 — Joe Monteparo, George Hillenbrandt, Steve Mango, Mike Pollock.
9:40 — Brian Daley, Mike Daley, Paul Carnivale, Kevin Betzwieler.
9:50 — Josh Powers, Jeremy Youngs, Joe Cimmino, Rit Cimmino.
10:00 — Mark Ottati, Mike DiGiloramo, Freddy Luna, David Dussault.
10:10 — Dave DeMarco, Al Cromer, Joe Plantz, Brandon Alois.
10:20 — Bill Mallia, Lucas Grant, Pete Guidarelli.
11:50 — Jay Taub, Chris Fatone, Peter Andrikopoulos, Johnathon Farah.
12:00 — Rob Bigley Jr., Todd Czepiel, Chad Stoffer, Aaron Simone.